High-speed relief is coming to Waterloo Region, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday.
The Ontario government has pledged to build a high-speed rail line along the Toronto-Windsor corridor, with a stop in Waterloo Region.
Phase 1 of the project, stretching from downtown Toronto to London, and which will include a stop at Pearson airport, is slated to be ready by 2025.
“We have to make a change. We have to bring this train to reality,” said Wynne, speaking to an audience at Google’s Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener.
Wynne, referencing the massive growth of Waterloo Region and the frustration of negotiating traffic along the perennially busy Highway 401, said the project would proceed in parallel with an existing provincial promise to deliver all-day GO train service to the region by 2024.
Lack of easy access to Toronto from Waterloo Region and vice-versa has long been lamented as a severe drag on the area’s growth and potential.
“Having the train, beyond the obvious impacts – reduced commute time, ease of hiring, faster growth for the region and for startup companies and scale-up companies – I think there’s an opportunity that’s hard to quantify: I think more companies will chose to come here,” said Steven Woods, Google Canada’s Senior Engineering Director.
The Toronto-Waterloo portion of the line is expected to cost between $4 billion and $12 billion, depending on a number of factors, including the specific capabilities and speed of the proposed service.
Wynne said the province is moving ahead with preliminary design work, including a $15-million environmental assessment.
The proposal would see trains travelling as fast as 250 km/h, reducing travel time from Waterloo Region to Toronto to 48 minutes from the existing average of 90 minutes. Travel to London would be reduced to 25 minutes from the existing 60.
“The need to get people back and forth is becoming more and more problematic,” said Regional Chair Ken Seiling. “Yesterday I had to go Toronto for a meeting. It took me 3 ½ hours in the morning going in and 2 ½ hours to come out mid-afternoon. I spent six hours, basically, in the car, for an hour-and-a-half meeting.
[The existing situation] harms people doing business.”
Wynne and provincial Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca acknowledged Friday that high-speed rail proposals for the Quebec City to Windsor corridor have been talked about many times in the past and yet never came to fruition. They pledged a different outcome this time.
“The best time to have done this was 40 years ago,” Wynne said. “The second-best time is today.
“We need to deal with that congestion on the highway and the only way we can do that is with rail.
“We’re moving ahead. We’re going to make this happen.”
Del Duca said the region will additionally soon see what he described as “incremental improvements” in GO train service, some before the end of the current year.
For Woods and others in Waterloo Region, the improvements can’t come fast enough. Woods believes the lack of adequate infrastructure along the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor has harmed the ability of local companies to recruit people.
“Take a look at the region: Someone alluded to the fact there are about 2,500 software jobs open today,” said Woods. “This number has remained relatively constant as we’ve expanded.
“We’ve done a lot of things to produce talent and retain talent locally and I think we’ve made some headway, which is why the demand [for people] isn’t worse.”
“[But as a result of not enough talent], some people in the rest of the tech community have had to slow their growth. It’s hard to understand how bad that is over time. As a result, some of those companies have changed plans. They’ve created other teams in other countries in some cases. There’s a lot of opportunity cost involved.”