By Dianne Pinder-Moss
It’s been many years since a passenger train passed through Perth. That could change, however, if a proposal by VIA Rail Canada gets on track.
Mayor John Fenik shared at the close of Tuesday’s (Aug. 30) regular meeting of Perth Town Council that he met earlier that day with a VIA Rail representative regarding the possible establishment of a rail line from Peterborough to Perth.
“They want to build a new track from Peterborough, running right on through and including Perth,” Fenik told council of his meeting with Jacques Fauteux, VIA Rail’s director of government and community relations, office of the president and CEO. Town clerk Lauren Walton and Grant Machan, director of environmental services, also took part in the meeting.
When contacted on Wednesday morning, Fauteux confirmed the meeting but referred all questions to VIA’s communications department.
The response provided by Mariam Diaby, senior adviser in media relations, was that VIA Rail has developed a project to build passenger dedicated tracks in the busiest Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal corridor.
“The project’s ultimate goal,” according to the email statement, “is to shorten trip times while increasing train frequencies, providing Canadians with a more modern, relevant and sustainable transportation service. It will have many positive impacts on job creation, lower the costs associated with congestion, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
As part of this project, it was mentioned that VIA Rail is currently conducting “due diligence” on its proposal to build a dedicated passenger railway track in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor.
“One of the options under consideration by VIA Rail includes the Shining Waters Railway Plan, which aims to provide passenger service from Toronto to Havelock, and its extension all the way to Ottawa, using existing or discontinued railroad rights of way.”
It was stressed in the written statement that this is a VIA Rail management initiative “and does not reflect the Government of Canada’s policies.”
In terms of a timeline for the project, Fenik said VIA Rail was talking about seeking federal approval within the next two quarters and a potential build happening in three to five years.
The message from VIA Rail’s media relations department was that the rail company “is collaborating fully with the Government of Canada as it conducts an in-depth assessment of the high-frequency rail proposal. We expect to submit a formal proposal, for the government’s consideration, by year-end.”
With VIA Rail reaching out to municipalities along the route of the proposed rail line, Fenik left little doubt of what he thought of the project. “I gave VIA Rail my 100 per cent support and blessing,” Fenik said, noting to the rail company that the community would “unequivocally embrace” the initiative.
That includes talk of locating a rail station in Perth — possibly a replica of the former station, which was constructed of mottled freestone and located at the end of Herriott Street. That station was demolished in 1979.
“I would love to see the resurrection of the old station,” he stated.
The mayor sees many benefits to passenger rail service being revived in the Perth area. As an example, if there was a train that ran from Perth to Smiths Falls and then into Ottawa at timely intervals, it could be utilized by commuters as well as university and college students.
“Passenger train service would be an economic boost for Perth and area, tourism would increase, more young people, I believe, would remain in the area as commuting to Ottawa would be easier and, from an environmental perspective, less cars on the road means less pollution,” he said, noting that there has been talk of having trains that could accommodate bikes.
Fenik plans to meet with Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow to discuss how they can work together to support the initiative. “I see this as good for Smiths Falls and Perth,” he said.
Perth’s mayor makes it clear that he will do whatever he can to make this project a reality, including lobbying federal and provincial levels of government. At the next Committee of the Whole meeting of town council slated for Sept. 13, he plans to put forward a motion to support in principle the project.
“(I will) go to the ends of the earth to help make this happen,” he commented.
Fenik is a frequent train traveller, primarily in the Montreal and Toronto rail corridor. “If passenger train travel was revived in Perth I would absolutely be the first one in line to buy a ticket,” he said.