Proposed Toronto-Chicago rail corridor draws attention, as Via tempers expectations
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 14, 2023 4:06PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 14, 2023 4:06PM EST
The mayor of Windsor, Ont., has drawn renewed attention to a push from Amtrak and Via Rail to link their lines across the U.S.-Canada border and revive passenger service between Toronto and Chicago before the decade is out.
Drew Dilkens shed new light last week on the proposal by showcasing a “fact sheet” provided by the railroad operators. The document states that they aim to connect two of North America's biggest cities as soon as late 2027, as well as 21 other communities in between. Ten of the stops are in Ontario, including Toronto, Brantford, London and Windsor.
The internal document projects annual ridership of 66,500 passengers, or 182 per day, on a once-daily round trip between Toronto and Chicago. In addition to touting economic benefits, it lays out track upgrades, crossing improvements and a joint customs facility to be built at Via Rail's station in Windsor.
Via confirmed it is in private discussions with Amtrak and other partners about the possibility of connecting Windsor and Detroit to re-establish the long-defunct corridor.
“However, Via Rail did not release the project fact sheet shared by some media outlets last week and we believe it is premature to be holding a discussion on this project in the public sphere,” spokesman Karl Helou said in an email.
While Dilkens said Amtrak and Via would pay for the project, Via says it has made no funding requests or commitments to finance the undertaking.
Amtrak confirmed it is in conversations with local, state and provincial officials about the would-be route.
The quasi-public passenger railway first sought to restore a connection between Toronto and Michigan via the 113-year-old Detroit River Rail Tunnel in 2019, with the Biden administration's US$1.2-trillion infrastructure bill now breathing new life into hopes of revitalized service. Some US$66 billion of the total is allocated for passenger rail, marking America's biggest investment in the sector since Amtrak's inception in 1971.
The aging tunnel is owned by Canadian Pacific Kansas City Ltd., which would have to give the green light for any service through the underwater route, where passenger trains have not operated since 1967.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.