General Project Questions
The High Frequency Rail (HFR) project is a proposed investment in new infrastructure to transform passenger rail service in Canada. This new sustainable train network will run on mostly dedicated tracks at higher frequencies, higher speeds and with greater reliability between Toronto and Québec City, making it faster and easier for people travelling in Canada’s most populated areas — for work or play.
The HFR project is one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canada’s history. With over 1,000 km of new passenger rail service planned between major city-centres including Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City, HFR will help build a better future for Canadians with new trains, and mostly electrified and dedicated passenger tracks, that will serve Canada’s growing population.
HFR — with over 1,000 km of rail between major cities including Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City — will provide Canada’s most populated areas with a new rail service operating mostly on electrified and dedicated passenger tracks, at higher frequencies, higher speeds and with greater reliability.
The HFR project will provide a greener, more accessible and more convenient way for Canadians to travel as our population grows. People will be able to connect between these major Canadian cities and communities for work, school and personal travel, helping to support the Canadian economy. By using trains with electrified technology, Canadians who travel the HFR network will help Canada’s efforts to reach greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
HFR will also benefit travellers on VIA Rail’s shared-track services between Toronto and Québec City. Arrival and departure times will be optimized for the convenience of commuters, leisure travellers and tourists alike, meaning that you can get to where you need to be when you need to be there.
Moving passenger services to dedicated tracks will also release capacity on the freight network improving current and future freight capacity and help support Canadian economic growth.
Train passengers—who travel for business or leisure—can expect more departures, improved schedules, reliability, and shorter travel times, making rail a more attractive option for intercity travel.
The HFR project will put passengers first by:
- Achieving greater connectivity for people living in and around major cities and communities between Toronto and Québec City, and to major airports and universities/ colleges in the region.
- Providing safe travel that meets Transport Canada's highest requirements. Reducing the environmental footprint with sustainable energy resources powering trains, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and supporting Canada’s sustainable development priorities in climate resilient infrastructure.
- Supporting economic growth by creating new employment opportunities in infrastructure, in new centres of economic activity and bringing people closer to markets and businesses.
- Promoting a competitive marketplace that gives Canadians more flexibility and affordable options for intercity travel.
- Increasing equitable access to passenger services for all people regardless of physical ability or socio-economic background.
High Frequency Rail will make a meaningful contribution to addressing climate change priorities in the transportation sector by offering a mostly electric-powered passenger rail service in Canada’s most densely populated region. This transformative project will provide a sustainable transportation alternative for generations to come. Passenger rail travel currently accounts for only 2 percent of all trips through the region; cars account for 94 percent. There will be a direct environmental benefit to shifting some of those who use cars to a greener passenger train service.
With electrification on the HFR dedicated tracks, dual-powered trains may still be required for portions of the route owned by third parties, such as freight railway companies, that are not yet electrified, and when HFR trains travel through these track segments they will run on diesel or battery.
The HFR Team is led by Transport Canada and includes members from Public Services and Procurement Canada, Infrastructure Canada, VIA HFR and VIA Rail. Each organization has clearly defined roles and responsibilities during the procurement phases. The HFR Team is also supported by multiple advisors, including the Canada Infrastructure Bank, who offer a wide range of experience and expertise and who are committed to collaboration and project optimization. The Department of Justice is the legal counsel to the Government of Canada.
At this time, the route HFR will travel is not yet finalized. The Government of Canada has announced that Canada’s new rail service on dedicated passenger tracks would travel between Toronto and Québec City, passing through Peterborough, Ottawa, Montréal and Trois-Rivières. Technical analysis and discussions with communities and Indigenous Peoples are ongoing to further our journey towards a final route selection.
Some of this work will be done in collaboration with a private-sector development partner. To deliver this ambitious vision and project, the Government of Canada is proposing a co-development approach to implement the HFR project. After the conclusion of a competitive procurement process, which has already commenced, and through the RFQ and RFP stages, the government will engage the selected partner to advance and optimize the design and scope of the HFR project.
In 2021, a group of independent advisors to the HFR project worked on estimating the number of people who would use the new services in the Windsor-Québec corridor. To do this, they had to perform several activities:
- Identify where it could be reasonable to build the new dedicated rail infrastructure so that people could travel faster between cities.
- Identify any technical problems that might arise when building and running the new rail service.
- Collect information about how people currently travel between cities and how often they do it. They looked at travellers who use automobiles, trains, planes, and buses.
- Study the different route options to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each one (cheapest, fastest, most reliable, and most convenient for people).
- Survey people who currently travel by train, or who might be interested in traveling by train, to identify what factors influence their travel choices.
- Examine how often the trains could be run and how much it will cost to ride them.
- Investigate past travel patterns and use this information to predict how many people will travel in the corridor in the future. They considered indicators such as changes in population, economic activity and technology.
- Use computer models to estimate how many of them could start using the new rail service instead of driving, flying, or taking the bus.
- As the planning and definition of the project progresses, the Integrated HFR Project Team is constantly reviewing and revisiting these estimates to ensure forecasts are up to date.
There are many systems around the world that integrate both high speed and high frequency.
We believe that High Frequency Rail offers a better strategy for improving intercity passenger rail services between Toronto and Québec City. By using dedicated passenger rail tracks, the HFR project will decrease journey times, increase reliability and passenger comfort, and represent significant improvements over the existing offering.
Dedicated tracks for HFR trains will also mostly separate passenger and freight rail operations, creating more sustainable transportation capacity for both people and goods.
Through a progressive public-private partnership, we will work with the private developer partner to assess sections of the High Frequency Rail service for potential high-speed rail, where it provides value for the additional investment.
A project of this complexity involves a procurement process that would culminate with the selection of a private-sector development partner to co-develop and execute the project.
With the partner selected, the project will move into a design phase. This phase may last four years or longer, and will involve an impact assessment and other regulatory reviews. Following the assessment, VIA HFR and the private-sector partner will deliver a project proposal to the Government of Canada for its final investment decision. Should the government accept the proposal, VIA HFR and the private-sector partner will build the new railway. It is anticipated that passenger operations would begin in the mid-2030s.
The procurement phase timeline:
- Activity: Government of Canada issues Request for Proposals (RFP)
- Timeframe (estimated): September 2023
- Activity: Deadline for response to RFP
- Timeframe (estimated): September 2024
While it is too early to determine exact service levels, the introduction of High Frequency Rail (HFR) will allow VIA HFR to provide more responsive service to communities on VIA Rail's existing local service routes between Toronto and Québec City.
Introduction of the HFR project will allow a re-design of existing operating frequencies on VIA Rail’s shared-track infrastructure between Toronto and Québec City. Arrival and departure times can, with the HFR project, be optimized for the convenience of travellers, meaning that with improved schedules you can get to where you need to be when you need to be there.
No. VIA Rail Canada will remain a Crown corporation owned by all Canadians. High Frequency Rail will dramatically expand and improve passenger rail service in Canada.
Under this collaborative model, VIA HFR has been established to act as a strong public sector counterpart to a private-sector partner. It will enter into a contract with this partner to design the HFR and, if the government accepts the design proposal, to enter into a long-term contract to build HFR, and operate and maintain passenger rail service in the Québec City to Toronto corridor. That contract will require the private-sector development partner to respect the contracts VIA Rail Canada has established with the unions representing its employees.
The Government of Canada will retain ownership of VIA Rail, its assets, and VIA HFR. As part of this process, the Government of Canada will require any private-sector development partner to respect VIA Rail Canada’s collective agreements and benefits, and to demonstrate how they will work with VIA Rail’s employees and unions. These criteria will be mandatory and any proposal that does not meet them will be deemed unacceptable by the Government of Canada.
The Canada Labour Code compels the private-sector development partner to employ unionized employees on the terms and conditions of applicable collective agreements at the time of their transfer. It also ensures the basic premise of continuity in the employment conditions of non-unionized employees that would transfer into the High Frequency Rail project.
Furthermore, in addition to the legal obligations under the Canada Labour Code, contractual obligations to ensure such continuity could also be imposed on the employer in the contract, including an obligation to employ any employees whose employment would not be automatically transferred by operation of law. As a federally regulated employer, other notable federal legislation pertaining to workers includes the Accessibility Act and Employment Equity Act.
The Government of Canada will ensure that the public interest is maintained, for example, through an equitable fare policy and minimum service requirements for local communities.
More details on the transition of operations to the private sector will become available over time and at key decision milestones, such as following the Request for Proposals and the co-development phase.
To develop and implement the HFR project, Canada incorporated VIA HFR – VIA TGF Inc. on November 29, 2022 as a wholly owned subsidiary of VIA Rail.
VIA HFR will oversee and manage the implementation and delivery of the Co-Development Phase. It will act as the project authority and a strong public sector counterparty to the eventual private-sector development partner (PDP). As it scales up, VIA HFR will take over the leadership of key project activities and will work collaboratively with the private partner to co-develop and optimize the HFR project.
VIA HFR, a Crown corporation, reports directly to Parliament through the Minister of Transport. It operates at arm’s length from the government with the flexibility, independence and corporate agility required to advance this large infrastructure project.
Once HFR is in service, VIA Rail is expected to continue operating its long-distance services from Toronto to Vancouver and from Montréal to Halifax.
Yes. A review by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is one of several government reviews of the HFR project. Others include a review by the Canadian Transportation Agency. VIA HFR has already begun outreach and engagement activities with communities and Indigenous Peoples who may be interested in or affected by the HFR project. These engagement activities will continue throughout the project development period.
For more information on our plans and commitment related to the Impact Assessment Process please visit our What’s Happening page.
For more information on Canada’s Impact Assessment Policy, please visit the Government of Canada’s website.
The HFR project would improve Canada’s environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It would offer people an option with a much lower carbon footprint than cars or planes. And, with more of us working from home, the HFR project has the potential to create more opportunities for people to live in the community of their choice by making travel, including commuting, a greener, more accessible and more convenient option.
As part of building a greener, more accessible, and sustainable transportation project, we have also initiated outreach and engagement activities with communities and Indigenous Peoples who may be directly affected by the HFR project.
Your input is essential to help guide the final design for HFR, including curve optimizations, locations for stations, maintenance facilities and temporary work areas, bridge and tunnel designs, and any mitigations needed to avoid or reduce environmental or social impacts.
Field studies allow us to better understand current environmental, health, social and economic conditions. These provide points of reference that will help decision-makers understand how a project could change these conditions, and to prescribe specific protection if needed.
Environmental field studies help us to record and understand environmental conditions so that we can plan to protect them. Each study occurs outdoors and may involve both direct observation and data collection. These studies are iterative and will continue for many years. They will help inform any future impact assessment and regulatory review processes.
For more information on our plans related to Field Studies please visit our Field Studies page.
The Government of Canada has contracted external advisors with expertise in railway planning, engineering, and operations to analyze options that would support its commitment to improve passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario. The results of this work are expected at the end of 2023. After that, the Government of Canada will be able to explore further the feasibility of integrating Southwestern Ontario into the High Frequency Rail project. This would include collaboration with VIA HFR and the private-sector development partner during the co-development phase.
The Government of Canada is committed to shortening journey times and will consider higher speeds on the eventual HFR route.
There are many systems around the world that integrate both high speed and high frequency. The Government of Canada will work with the private-sector development partner to assess sections of the High Frequency Rail service for potential high-speed service where this would be safe, feasible and affordable.
There will be ongoing assessments as to how the service can be improved over the course of the project. This responsible approach will ensure Canadians get good value for money.
The two systems differ in speed, infrastructure requirements, and station locations.
Speed: A high-speed train would run at speeds well above the maximum speed of 177 km/h allowed on tracks with level crossings for vehicles and pedestrians. For the HFR project, the private-sector development partner will have the flexibility to explore opportunities for higher speeds on segments of track where this would make financial and operational sense.
Infrastructure requirements: Compared to High Frequency Rail, a full high-speed rail system would require more time and money to build a fully enclosed (fenced) corridor, a straighter alignment with full, double tracking to allow trains to run unobstructed in both directions, as well as complete separation of the railway from crossing traffic. Over 1,000 public and private crossings between Toronto and Québec City and Toronto would need to be closed. Many would replaced with overpasses and tunnels.
Stops and Stations: High-speed rail systems are usually designed to optimize travel between two major cities, with limited stops in between. Stations are also usually located outside city centres. High Frequency Rail would be capable of serving smaller communities between major cities and reaching busy downtown stations.
The Government of Canada is implementing a robust, cost-management strategy for High Frequency Rail to ensure it transforms the way that Canadians move, work, and live. As part of this cost-management strategy, the private-sector developer partner will be incentivized to innovate and reduce costs to create better value for money, while protecting the public interest. It also includes annual cost updates from the private-sector partner, recurring due diligence, open-book reporting to manage costs and scope changes, as well as specific measures at every phase of the project.
All of these measures combined will ensure the Government of Canada is advancing the High Frequency Rail project in a financially responsible manner.
Currently, VIA Rail trains in the corridor can travel up to 160 kilometres per hour (km/h), with operating speeds of 60-120 km/h depending on the segment.
High Frequency Rail could enable higher speeds on track sections where the needed upgrades are safe, affordable, and feasible.
Our goal is to make journey times as short as possible. We will consider high speed segments where they are safe, feasible, and provide value for money, so that we get the best outcome for the traveller and we protect taxpayers
VIA Rail’s passenger rail services in the Québec City to Toronto corridor will continue to operate during the development of High Frequency Rail. Eventually, these local services will be integrated with High Frequency Rail services into a single network, and the private-sector development partner will be required to maintain connectivity to these existing communities in this corridor.
The implementation of High Frequency Rail offers the opportunity to improve services on these routes to better address local needs, such as more tailored service schedules. This work will be further explored during the co-development phase of the project.
Given the size, scale and complexity of the HFR project, the Government of Canada has chosen an innovative public-private partnership (P3) model. The collaborative approach will promote innovation, improve service for passengers, reduce risk, improve risk management, and ultimately achieve better value for Canadians.
Yes, the Government of Canada will outline mandatory requirements, such as those related to safety and to minimum project outcomes that are important to Canadians.
For example, project outcomes will include: producing a significant modal shift to passenger rail; providing barrier-free access to services according to the latest accessibility standards; and improved on-time performance across the Corridor. There will be flexibility to explore innovations to maximize project outcomes, such as including higher speeds on some segments to bring more benefits to Canadians.
More information on project outcomes and other elements of the project can be found in this presentation from the 30th Annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships Conference (CCPPP).
The Request for Qualifications enabled the Government of Canada to qualify three respondents. It will invite them to participate in the Request for Proposals, which will eventually lead to the selection of the private-sector developer partner. This private-sector partner will work collaboratively with VIA HFR to design and develop the High Frequency Rail project.
The Request for Qualifications provided an updated overview of the High Frequency Rail project, and described the:
- procurement process including the evaluation criteria, security requirements, proposal development funding support, and key principles of the deal structure;
- roles and responsibilities of the private-sector developer partner; and
- project outcomes that the private-sector development partner will have to meet or exceed.
Now that the Government of Canada has issued the RFP to three qualified bidding teams, the next step is for the teams to submit their proposals.
- Activity: Government of Canada issued Request for Proposals (RFP)
- Timeframe: October 13, 2023
- Activity: Deadline for response to RFP
- Timeframe (estimated): Fall 2024
There was a high level of interest in the project from both domestic and international parties, with formal responses from 54 parties. Respondents confirmed support for the overall approach, sought clarifications on some elements of the project such as roles and responsibilities, and suggested ways to improve the design of the procurement process. The results of this process were included in the Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) Update issued on October 31, 2022.
The Government of Canada is committed to transforming intercity passenger rail to meet the needs of travellers. This commitment is evidenced by the major milestones the project has achieved this past year, and the momentum we are building with the launch of the formal stage of the procurement process.
Key Milestones include:
• In March 2022, the Government of Canada launched the procurement process with the Request for Expressions of Interest.
• In November 2022, the government established VIA HFR as a project office dedicated to work collaboratively with the private-sector development partner to design, develop and optimize High Frequency Rail.
• In February 2023, the Government of Canada released the Request for Qualifications, which brings the project one step closer to finding a private-sector developer partner.
• In July 2023, the government qualified three bidding teams for the Request for Proposals process.
• On October 13, 2023, the government released the Request for Proposal tender for bidders. The government intends to select a private-sector development partner in mid-2024.
This will lead to the next critical step: the collaborative design and development of the new system by VIA HFR and its private-sector development partner, followed by construction, and operation. Public engagement and Indigenous consultations will occur throughout the project.
The three consortia are Cadence, Intercity Rail Developers / Développeurs Ferroviares Interurbains, and Partenaires Ferroviares QCONNEXION rail Partners.
A private-sector development partner will be chosen based on its demonstrated capacity to deliver the High Frequency Rail project with the best benefits for Canadians. It will be asked to present its analysis for a technically and commercially feasible solution, along with a business plan and management plan for the co-development, construction and operation phases of the project.
The Government of Canada will also be looking for:
- how the solutions meet or exceed the project outcomes;
- understanding of the project and its associated risks;
- partnership and collaborative strategies for Indigenous Peoples; and
- readiness and capacity to proceed.
This strategy will drive respondents to maximize project outcomes.
VIA HFR will work with the private-sector development partner once it is selected to co-develop and design the project.
The private-sector partner will be incentivized through returns tied to the project outcomes with the best value for Canadians. This is aligned with the best practices emerging around the world for delivering very large, complex infrastructure projects like High Frequency Rail.
Capital costs could decrease as a result of innovative design ideas and efficient strategies for meeting the project outcomes. The capital costs could also increase if the partnership proposes to increase speeds beyond 200 kilometres per hour on certain segments of track. While speeds of over 250 kilometres per hour would require greater up-front investments, it would also produce shorter journey times and deliver greater operating revenues by attracting more customers.
Overall, it is expected that the net cost to taxpayers for High Frequency Rail will be less than the capital costs, because the High Frequency Rail service is expected to eliminate the operating subsidy VIA Rail requires today for its current corridor operations. The service is also expected to generate an operating profit. This will offset some portion of the up-front capital costs for taxpayers.
As is the case for the entire project, the selection of candidates was overseen by a fairness monitor. This independent consultant acts as an objective, third-party observer, who monitors the procurement process to ensure that it is conducted in a fair manner, and consistent with the processes set out in the RFQ and RFP.
Each RFQ response was structured as six packages:
- Respondent team composition, structure, governance and experience
- Infrastructure development capability and experience
- Design capability and experience
- Rail operations, commercial management & customer service delivery experience
- Experience and approach – working with Indigenous Peoples
- Financial capability and experience
Six separate expert evaluation committees, one per package, evaluated each package independently and prepared anonymized evaluation reports. An Evaluation Review Committee then reviewed the anonymized evaluation reports from all evaluation committees to ensure completeness and consistency.
National security and related risks were assessed and will continue to be assessed throughout the project, and measures to address these risks will be developed. Selection of the chosen private developer partner will depend on several conditions, including national security.
The results were finalized on an anonymous basis and respondents were informed of the outcome on July 19. Once respondents were informed, the Minister and senior officials at Transport Canada, VIA Rail and VIA HFR were informed of the names of three retained consortia.
Learn more about the three qualified teams to respond to the Request for Proposals. Learn More.
Cadence - CDPQ Infra, SNC Lavalin, Systra Canada, Keolis Canada
Intercity Rail Developers / Développeurs Ferroviaires Interurbains - Intercity Development Partners, Meridiam, Kilmer Transportation, First Rail Holdings, Jacobs, Hatch, CIMA+, RATP Dev Canada, First Group, Renfe Operadora
Partenaires Ferroviaires QCONNEXION Rail Partners - Fengate, John Laing, Bechtel, WSP, Deutsche Bahn
HFR and You
Meaningful, inclusive and accessible consultation, engagement and communication—with Indigenous Peoples and the public—are key to building a High Frequency Rail (HFR) system that maximizes benefits for all Canadians. Our team has already started to engage communities and Indigenous Peoples to understand views and gather feedback that will help guide the future of the HFR project. In addition, to support and encourage the participation of Indigenous Peoples, Transport Canada is making grant funding available through the Community Participation Funding Program – High Frequency Rail (CPFP-HFR).
Input from Indigenous Peoples is key to help guide the final design for the HFR project. You can stay informed by signing up for project updates at www.hfr-tgf.ca or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Government of Canada is committed to advancing rights and reconciliation for Indigenous Peoples in its development of the High Frequency Rail project.
This approach is grounded in the principles of engaging early and meaningfully in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, fulfilling the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate and advancing priorities on reconciliation, including identifying opportunities for the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the High Frequency Rail project.
In this context, the Government of Canada looks forward to working with Indigenous Peoples on a range of matters, such as supporting opportunities for Indigenous-led businesses. To foster meaningful dialogue, the VIA HFR team is engaging Indigenous communities and organizations to co-develop early engagement plans and collaboration agreements.
The Government of Canada places great value on selecting a private-sector development partner who prioritizes and values meaningful relationships with Indigenous Peoples. As such, during the Request for Proposals stage, the Government of Canada will evaluate the Indigenous participation plans of proponents to encourage collaboration opportunities with Indigenous Peoples, businesses, communities, and organizations.
On May 10, 2023, VIA HFR provided potentially impacted Indigenous communities and organizations a Summary of the Request for Proposals of the High Frequency Rail (hfr-tgf.ca), inviting them to share their views and comments on the upcoming Request for Proposals (RFP) process through in-person or virtual meetings or by providing written feedback. In early June 2023, VIA HFR held two online Information Sessions (one in French and one in English) for Indigenous communities, and organizations and entities, where the project team reviewed the procurement process and the RFP summary document, and answered questions from participants. A copy of the Information Session presentation and summary of the questions and answers provided can be found online at Summary of the High Frequency Rail Request for Proposals - High Frequency Rail (hfr-tgf.ca).
To encourage participation in this process, Indigenous communities, organizations and entities were advised that funding was available from Transport Canada’s Community Participation Fund. The available funding could be used to support participation in the Information Sessions and meetings, review of documents and the submission of comments and input. While feedback was requested by July 10, 2023, several Indigenous communities were provided additional time to provide comments or to schedule a meeting with the project team.
Comments received from Indigenous communities and organizations were considered by the Government of Canada and used to inform the final RFP document, which was released in October 2023. A summary of the feedback received from Indigenous communities and organizations, including how it helped shape the final RFP, were compiled into a “What We Heard Report” and made available publicly.
The Government of Canada is committed to an ongoing dialogue with Canadians and building nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationships with Indigenous Peoples. Input and feedback from Indigenous Peoples throughout the life of the project is essential to develop an effective project that creates mutually beneficial socio-economic development and project participation opportunities.
The Government of Canada has been proactively reaching out to engage more than 40 First Nations, Innu and Métis communities, organizations and entities. Initial outreach includes providing an introduction to the High Frequency Rail project; inquiring about how parties would like to be engaged; and providing Indigenous Peoples an opportunity to express initial views and feedback on the project.
Indigenous Peoples and all Canadians who may have input, questions or concerns about the project, can provide their feedback through the High Frequency Rail project website.
Indigenous Peoples and the public will also have the opportunity to contribute to the project over the coming years through the impact assessment process. Information on this engagement process will be forthcoming.
The participation of Indigenous Peoples is essential to the success of the proposed High Frequency Rail project. To support and encourage the participation of Indigenous Peoples, Transport Canada has made grant funding available through the Community Participation Funding Program – High Frequency Rail (CPFP-HFR).
Eligible recipients may obtain funding after receiving an invitation from Transport Canada or VIA HFR to participate in project-related engagement and consultation activities. Please contact email@example.com for more information.
Your voice matters, and we are committed to engaging Indigenous People and all Canadians throughout every phase of this once-in-a-generation project. You can share your views on the project, ask questions or sign up for project updates here.
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