Amtrak 'sees promise' in Detroit-Toronto corridor

Detroit-Toronto passenger rail service stopped operating in 1971.

The last direct train between Detroit and Toronto was before Amtrak existed

Amtrak has asked for federal funding to return service from Detroit to Windsor.

The largest U.S. passenger rail system is hoping to connect its service to southwestern Ontario.

Amtrak, which operates inter-city passenger trains in the United States has asked for federal funding to bring back the Detroit to Toronto corridor. 

Detroit to Toronto rail service ended in April 1971, but even then it wasn't direct service — it involved a change of trains and carriers at Welland, Ont. and Buffalo, N.Y. The last direct train from Detroit to Toronto was in 1967, before Amtrak existed as a corporation.

"Amtrak is exploring places it can modernize and expand its services and network," said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. "A Chicago/Western Michigan-Detroit-Toronto corridor is one of the services where we see promise."

Passengers get off an Amtrak train in this file footage. (CBC)

Currently, passengers travelling from Toronto to Detroit take a Via train from Toronto to Windsor, then either a Windsor city bus or cab to the downtown terminal. After that, passengers take the tunnel bus, an Amtrak connector bus or a Greyhound to get to the train station in Detroit.

According to Amtrak, the Michigan Department of Transportation has also shown interest in service between Michigan and Ontario.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation isn't aware of any discussions of this proposal at this point, according to a spokesperson.

"We'd be pleased to review any proposal that Amtrak forwards to us," the email reads. 

When CBC News reached out to Via Rail for comment, a spokesperson said there hasn't been any discussions between Via and Amtrak about the possibility. 

'It's just an idea'

Magliari said the concept is just an idea right now.

"Want to start a conversation with stakeholders on both side of the river," said Magliari. 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was happy to see Windsor might be included in a new transportation plan.

"I was really happy to see Amtrak has considered the restoration of service in their request for grant funding," said Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens. "That's the first step."

Dilkens said it's another opportunity to add a mode of transportation into the United States. 

"If there's a stop in Windsor, it allows folks to get on and connect to the Amtrak system," said Dilkens, adding that it would provide "seamless" transportation to places like Chicago, Illinois. 

An Amtrak train pulls into a station in this file photo. (CBC)

The City of Windsor hasn't been involved in any discussions with Amtrak, and Amtrak hasn't listed a requested amount in their federal funding request. 

"There's a lot of mechanics still to figure out," said Dilkens, referring to both customs procedures and what tracks would be involved in putting a Windsor stop on the Detroit to Toronto route.

An agreement would likely have to be reached to use CP Rail's tunnel to access Via's line through Windsor-Essex and then use CN track through to Toronto.

CBC News also reached out to CN Rail and CP Rail for comment and have not heard back from either of them.

Windsor-Detroit not the only option

Magliari said a train crossing in Sarnia would be another option.

"We need to add service in places that show promise," said Magliari. "There's interest in putting service back in areas where it was lost."

Current Amtrak gateways between Canada and the U.S. are centralized in Vancouver or around Buffalo, N.Y.

"Speaking personally, it seems like a long drive [from Windsor to London to Toronto]," said Magliari. "It would not be as long of a train ride."

Via Rail Canada currently provides the only passenger rail transportation in southwestern Ontario. (CBC)

According to Magliari, the idea is just getting service from Michigan to Toronto. 

"We would need adequate rail infrastructure for this to work, but also a customs solution that would not delay the train," said Magliari. "Whether it's Sarnia or Windsor, there needs to be a customs solution that would be timely and responsive."

Overall, Magliari said it's too early to speculate on where or when a Detroit to Toronto corridor came to fruition.

With files from Chris Ensing