Link Montreal to Chicago with Ontario's high speed rail, chamber president says

The Ontario government should be looking at linking any high speed rail in Ontario to cities in the midwest United States, the president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce says.
A high-speed train is seen leaving a station in Europe, in this file photo. The Ontario government intends to bring high-speed rail to the Toronto-Windsor corridor. (Associated Press)

The provincial government should consider linking any potential high-speed rail in Ontario to cities in the midwest United States, according to president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Matt Marchand is part of a group that met with provincial officials in Windsor on Wednesday to discuss what such a rail project could look like. The plan, so far, is to link Toronto to Windsor with some sort of high-speed rail.

"I think what we're talking [about] here is the 160 km/h train ride to Toronto, that's where we're at," Marchand told CBC Radio's Windsor Morning. "The real high-speed stuff with electrification and the 300 km/h just may be a little too expensive, although it depends what the government wants to do and how far it wants to go."

(University of Windsor)

But Marchand's vision is to one day link high-speed rail all the way to the Windy City by partnering with rail companies in the United States as well as Via Rail in Quebec and Ontario. Such a network would connect Montreal, Toronto, Windsor, Detroit and Chicago.

"That market has really not been unlocked," Marchand said. "One of the discussion points today will be to look at whether there is an opportunity to unlock that marketplace."

Growing interest

The details on the proposed project are scarce, but it appears the provincial government is serious about making it a reality.

The Ontario government appointed David Collenette as a special advisor for high-speed rail and participated in Wednesday's meeting. According to Marchand, Windsor city councillor Jo-Anne Gignac, NDP MP Cheryl Hardcastle, and NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky were there as well.

"I did detect a level of seriousness, which was good to see," Marchand said. "We've talked about high-speed rail before, but it seems, in this circumstance, there is a strong will behind it." 

Karen Vecchio, the Conservative MP from Elgin-Middlesex-London participated in discussions in London and believes a proposal will be completed by October.

"From what I understand, they want to have this studied and they want to have a proposal given to the government," she said Tuesday.

Marchand believes high-speed rail would use existing track between Windsor and Toronto and would cut down the trip to about three hours, down from the four it currently takes.

In order to do this, the signaling system needs to be upgraded and there need to be separate tracks exclusively for passenger trains. Right now tracks are shared between passenger and freight trains, Marchand said. 

"There is an opportunity here and we're looking forward to having that discussion today," Marchand said.