Director General, Surface Transportation Policy, Department of Transport
Thank you very much for inviting us to be here today.
We have provided the committee with what we think are key documents that you might want to take into account for your study. Today, all I'll do is give a quick recap of what has happened over the last 15 years and what we have embarked on in looking at high-speed rail.
Before I start, I'll note a couple of definitions, because I'm sure that during the discussion the terminology will come up. It's not as if this is precise terminology, but it is the terminology we refer to. There is high-speed rail, higher-speed rail, and what we call conventional or traditional rail services.
I'll start with the latter. Conventional rail is basically the kind of service that VIA Rail operates today and Amtrak operates over most of its network. The maximum speed is up to about 160 kilometres per hour, and most of the services are operated on joint infrastructure with the freight rail lines. The top speed would be the speed between the corridors that don't have a lot of stops, where the trains can go fairly quickly.
Higher-speed rail is in the middle, between the conventional and the high-speed rail. It's really about improving the conventional service to a somewhat higher speed, going from about 160 kilometres per hour up to a maximum of 240 kilometres per hour. That usually can be accomplished with the same infrastructure as the freight railways, but there would have to be, in some cases, portions of track that would allow the passenger trains to go more quickly.
Then when we talk about high-speed rail, we are really talking about anything from 200 kilometres per hour and over. In most of the systems around the world, there are big variations. The European high-speed trains tend to travel at around the high 200s and 300s, with some of them getting close to 400 kilometres per hour. These systems are usually dedicated rights of way and are electrified, so there is no sharing of tracks with the freight rail systems. The corridor has to be totally separate for safety reasons, because a train would not be able to stop very quickly.
High-speed rail has been looked at fairly frequently over, I would say, the last 20 or so years. We, the Government of Canada, with the governments of Ontario and Quebec, studied the electrified version of high-speed rail in quite a lot of depth back in 1992 to 1995. That study was completed in 1995. We've provided you with a copy of the final report. Basically it looked at the technical and economic feasibility of that service between Windsor and Quebec City.
The study included pretty significant assessments. It was a compilation of studies looking at possible routing options, detailed traffic forecasts and the shifts between the modes, the construction costs, a review of possible technologies that were available at around that time, and operational characteristics—that is, how the service would have to operate, as well as the costs of operating a service and any required subsidies for that.
The study also looked at the socio-economic impact, and the industrial/economic, urban, and environmental impacts, as well as the impact on other modes. Also included was a potential industrial strategy to look at whether it was possible that high-speed rail service could generate other activity. Most importantly, it looked at a financial analysis, including financing options and a cost-benefit analysis.
Since that study, other studies have been undertaken by private entities, including, for example, Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin. There were other proposals submitted. Those were private proposals, I would say, so they would have to come from those entities who did the studies.
More recently in 2003, VIA put forward a proposal that has been referred to as VIAFast. It was a higher-speed rail proposal--that is, for between 160 and 240 kilometres per hour. That study was assessed by us and VIA. The option was really to provide a slightly faster service than what VIA is operating today in the corridor between Windsor and Quebec City.
In January 2008, former minister Cannon agreed with his colleagues in Ontario and Quebec that perhaps it was time to revisit the high-speed rail file, and we agreed to jointly update the studies that were done from 1992 to 1995. So we have now embarked on those studies. The actual work began in February of this year and is expected to take a little bit over a year to complete, so the studies will not be completed until early 2010.
We did provide, by the way, the request for proposal document that was tendered for the consulting firm that was selected, and in it you will find the various elements that are going to be looked at in more detail, the kinds of things we're going to be looking at. In summary, we will once again review the high-speed rail technologies that are available. There has been an enormous evolution in high-speed rail technology in the past 15 years. There are lots more options today than there were back then.
Also, we must consider the possible routing options and look at what was looked at before or anything else that may serve as an option for today. We are going to update the transportation demand forecast. This is a critical piece of work. I'll say that this is the driver of the whole study. We need to understand what the possible ridership would be for such a service and where that ridership would be coming from.
We will also update the implementation costs, the capital and the construction costs, as well as assess the operating costs for such a service. We will analyze, I will say, in more detail perhaps than the 1992-1995 study, the environmental and social impacts. This has become a pretty significant concern more recently, given the climate change impacts and the clean air objectives of the three governments.
Also, we will redo the financial and economic analysis. The objective is to look at opportunities for private sector involvement in such a service, and we will look at whether or not a public-private partnership could help make this more affordable. We've also expanded a couple of areas that weren't looked at in 1992 and 1995. We're looking at the institutional framework, the governance types of regimes for other high-speed rail experiences across the world. How do those function? What kind of entities are they? Are they private or public-private? Are they crown corporations? Are they an arm of a government department? It will be things like that. We'll review implementation scenarios, whether or not you do a phased approach or do everything all at once. We'll offer suggestions on how that might go.
We have to assess the impact on the other modes. This is always a very important and controversial issue. You will probably hear this if you're planning to invite some witnesses. Then they'll provide some conclusions and recommendations on what might need to be next or how to proceed from there.
As I said, the study is expected to be completed early in 2010.