Just What Is The Liberal Platform on High Speed Rail?

When the Ontario Budget for 2014 was introduced, it included $29-billion for a variety of infrastructure projects including much transit in the GTHA. The list of projects did not include any mention of High Speed Rail service to London, although it did have a convenient trap door for scope expansion in the phrase:

Outside of the GTHA, priority projects could include …

That “could” can embrace many possibilities beyond the items in the budget paper.

This budget was not passed, but it has been substantially incorporated into the Liberal election platform. Oddly enough, if one visits their infrastructure page, there is still no mention of High Speed Rail. Only when we delve deeper by looking at the detailed plan linked from that page, do we see:

Investing in High-Speed Rail: We will invest in high-speed rail service between southwestern Ontario and Toronto, through London and Kitchener-Waterloo. We will move forward by finalizing the business cases and proceeding with environmental assessments on the line from Toronto to London and between London and Windsor. We will invite the private sector and Ontario-based pension plans to invest in this project.

Burying such an important project a few levels down in an election website is hardly the way to show off a signature plank, and with this as the only mention, there is certainly the feel that it was patched on at the last moment. Never mind that the line has already grown an extension to Windsor.

From the background material released to date, we know that even the most optimistic projections for this line will not be profitable. Where the interest will lie for investment without some form of subsidy is a mystery.

A basic fact bears repeating here: High Speed Rail was not part of the proposed budget, but was tacked on to the platform after the fact. Even now the only commitment is for further study including an environmental assessment.

When the budget was tabled, the HSR was not part of the $29-billion infrastructure fund. Was this a case of a project that didn’t pass muster for budget purposes, but could survive the lesser review needed for a campaign promise? Would the HSR scheme survive in a Ministry of Transportation without Glen Murray?

We are still waiting for the background consulting work done for Murray, but this will remain buried in his Ministry, unavailable for review, until after the election.

There is a case for better rail passenger service in Ontario outside of the GTHA, but this can come much more quickly and almost certainly at lower cost with a focus on less ambitious technology. Ontario may not like VIA’s lacklustre service levels, but building a parellel network and competing services is hardly the way to improve the situation.

Queen’s Park owes all of Ontario such a review, not just a bauble for one corridor.