Via upgrades to cost $700 million

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette to announce $700 million in funding Friday to upgrade infrastructure for Via Rail

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette announced $700 million in funding Friday to upgrade infrastructure for Via Rail.

The project, called Renaissance II, "will provide for faster, more frequent and more reliable passenger service across Canada and will preserve the option for higher speed rail, such as the Via Fast proposal, at a later date," Collenette said at a news conference.

Collenette said the cash infusion will lay the groundwork for Via Fast, a high-speed train between Quebec City and Windsor, Ont.

The funding will be spent over five years on improvements to railway tracks and equipment including locomotives, cars and stations.

The money is to start flowing from the next budget, for fiscal year 2004-2005, when Paul Martin is expected to take office.

But senior Liberal Joe Comuzzi, chair of the House of Commons transportation committee, said Prime Minister Jean Chrtien should not be committing to large funding expenditures as he nears retirement.

Collenette dismissed the idea that he would be tying Martin's hands.

"Not at all. The debate for improving railway service has been going on for five years," he said.

Collenette skirted the question of whether he had spoken with Martin directly about the expenditure, saying he went through the "normal channels."

Before the announcement, Stan Keyes, a Liberal member of the transport committee, told CBC Newsworld that Collenette hasn't provided enough information on the benefits of high-speed train service.

"What is higher-speed rail system? What is Via Fast? We as a committee, members of Parliament, have never seen this proposal. We don't know what it contains, what its demands are.

"The minister is prepared to give this money on a proposal that we have never seen, on a proposal that we are not sure what the benefits will be."