Smiths Falls mayor eyes Via High Frequency Rail stop in town, but it may be a decade away

Smiths Falls VIA station. – Photo via WikiCommons

It may be a decade down the line, but the mayor of Smiths Falls is hopeful Via High Frequency Rail will create a stop in town.

The Via High Frequency Rail (HFR) network will include many new, electrified and dedicated tracks that extend over 1,000 kilometres between Quebec City and Toronto, which will connect Trois-Rivieres, Montreal, Ottawa, Peterborough and Toronto. These trains travel 200 km/hr on electrified, dedicated passenger tracks.

Mayor Shawn Pankow, in his update to council during the March 4 regular meeting, said he’s encouraged to hear the plans, but doesn’t expect there to be any movement on the file until the late 2020s, early 2030s.

He met with the VIA HRF team on Feb. 23, along with Casselman Mayor Geneviève Lajoie. He said the project is officially out with three potential proponents who will respond to the request for proposals.

They will put together their vision after all the consultation that has happened so far, Pankow said.

“It’s 1,000 kilometres of track between Montreal and Toronto and of course, Smiths Falls is in the middle of all that,” he said. “We don’t know yet if we’ll have a stop at Smiths Falls as we were definitely advocating for, but there are a number of decisions to be made before we get to that point.”

During a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal on Feb. 20, Martin Imbleau, CEO of VIA HFR, presented a rapid passenger rail project between Québec City and Toronto that has evolved considerably with the recent creation of a new federal Crown corporation entirely dedicated to its development. This is the largest transportation infrastructure project in Canada since the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway over 60 years ago.

According to a media release following the Chamber of Commerce event, the project has progressed in recent months. The objective is to put in place a rapid service, comparable to European standards, in the Québec City-Toronto corridor, allowing passengers to get to their destination quickly and return on the same day thanks to frequent and reliable departures.

It is an “ambitious project” that will involve long-term collaboration with the selected partner to ensure the project’s success and sustainability, and taking into account the geography, demographics and our economy. “Taking our time now during the co-development phase is the best way to move quickly later. Let’s take the time to work intelligently to propose the outlines of a solid project,” Imbleau said.

The project is also engaged in a proactive collaboration with Indigenous communities along the corridor. “We want this project to be a true vehicle for economic reconciliation with First Nations,” added Imbleau. “We will work with Indigenous communities to integrate their participation and make them partners.”

According to the HFR website, dedicated tracks for HFR trains will mostly separate passenger and freight rail operations, creating more sustainable transportation capacity for both people and goods. The HFR project will aim to provide a greener, more accessible and more convenient way for Canadians to travel as our population grows.

HFR will also benefit travellers on VIA Rail’s shared-track services between Toronto and Québec City. Moving passenger services to dedicated tracks should also release capacity on the freight network, improving current and future freight capacity.

Coun. Peter McKenna asked if there was a succession plan, as this “might take up to a decade to realize, how do we keep track of dialogue?”

The mayor and CAO Malcolm Morris each have files on the Via HFR for any successor.

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