London

So, are we getting high speed rail or what?

There was money in Wednesday's provincial budget to move forward with high speed rail between London and Toronto, but what does it actually mean -- and what happens if the Liberals lose the election?

Wednesday's Liberal budget included $11-billion for an environmental assessment for a London-to-Toronto line

Ontario has committed about $11 billion to support construction of a high speed rail network. (The Associated Press)

There was money in Wednesday's provincial budget to move forward with high speed rail between London and Toronto, but what does it actually mean -- and what happens if the Liberals lose the election? 

Show me the money

The budget included $11-billion for the high speed rail project's next phase, which is an environmental assessment.  

A feasibility study done months ago showed that the project would benefit southwestern Ontario. 

This cash is earmarked for environmental assessments to figure out where the rail line should go, transportation minister Kathryn McGarry told CBC's London Morning host Julianne Hazlewood. 

Eventually the rail will run between Windsor and Toronto, but London to Toronto would be built first. All of that was already announced in May. 

The portion that runs between Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Pearson International Airport is pretty much figured out — it would use existing GO Transit infrastructure. 

But the London to Kitchener portion is a little more dicey because a new rail line will have to be put down, and some communities and farmers don't want the rail line running through their backyards. 

Time is money

The environment assessment will take between 18 and 24 months to complete, and will include consultations with Indigenous groups and communities along possible routes, McGarry said. 

It can also be used to figure out what kind of high-speed rail the province might settle on, said Paul Langan, president of High Speed Rail Canada, an advocacy group that's been pushing for this project and better rail service in general, for years. 

"They could go on the existing rail line and go 200 km/h or they could build a dedicated line that could go 350, 400km/h. There's a whole spectrum of things they can do," Langdon said. 

The premier has previously said she wants to see the Windsor to Toronto corridor to be up and running by 2025. 

It would mean a 73 minute trip from London to Union Station in downtown Toronto, or a 48 minute trip from Kitchener-Waterloo to Union Station. 

But there's a catch...

The money and environmental assessment go-ahead were announced in a pre-election budget, by a party with a leader that isn't very popular. 

If the Conservatives or NDP win the provincial election, they'll have to decide whether they want to continue with high speed rail.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath has said she supports high speed rail; Conservative leader Doug Ford told CBC News Thursday he is committed to studying it.  

Langan, who has been advocating for high speed rail for years, said any kind of improvement to the current system would be welcome. 

"After 20 years of advocating for this, you get a little bit cynical of fighting for modern passenger rail," he said. "Other countries have had it for half a century, but we've come very far...this is kind of the last hope we have for modern high speed rail."

Langan said he hopes the province partners with an organization such Japan Rail, a group of countries that operates the highly efficient Japanese railway system. 

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