Council balks at Via high frequency rail plans

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By Nick Seebruch
Council balks at Via high frequency rail plans
Cornwall's Via Rail station (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall City Council invited Via Rail to present their plans for the future at their meeting on Tuesday, May 25 and the presentation seemed to leave Council feeling less than impressed.

Philippe Cannon, spokesperson for Via Rail Canada explained how the company was hoping to build two high frequency rail (HFR) lines in the future to counter increasingly frequent delays that Via trains were currently facing.

Cannon explained that a current problem facing Via Rail is that they only owned three per cent of the rail line that they use and that freight trains were becoming longer and longer, which was creating correspondingly longer delays for their passenger trains.

Cornwall Council’s problem with this plan, is that the new HFR line would break away from the current rail line at the Coteau-du-Lac station, divert to Alexandria, and go around Cornwall entirely.

Not being included on the HFR line was categorized as being “entirely unacceptable,” by Councillor Elaine MacDonald who stated that Via’s plan would lead Cornwall residents who wanted to use the train to drive to Kingston, Brockville or Montreal.

“The whole concept of this high frequency rail project is to give more services to different communities,” Cannon said. “The whole point of the HFR project is to add to the network we currently serve.”

Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement stated however that Via’s plan to divert the HFR track around Cornwall gave the impression that the city would be under-served. She said that the Cornwall Via Rail station did not seem like it was getting the same amount of investment as other stations on the track.

“I have travelled the train and have seen other stations and have seen how much they have been invested in as opposed to ours,” she said. “Taking staff away and putting up paid parking has sent the opposite message. It sends the message that you don’t want our business.”

Cannon said that the Mayor was putting words in his mouth and pointed out that 90 per cent of all Via Rail stations across the country were unmanned.

The Cornwall Via station saw 56,000 passengers pass through in 2019, a 4.4 per cent increase from 2017.

Cannon explained that these plans for the HFR track were very preliminary and that he expected that Via would be updating Council on future developments at some point down the line.

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