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High-speed rail link could get budget nod

(The Globe and Mail posted the following story by Simon Tuck on its website on February 5.)

OTTAWA -- A federal proposal for a high-speed rail link in Central Canada could get its first financial commitment in the coming budget, Transport Minister David Collenette said yesterday.

"If you can get all of the money in one shot, do it in one shot," Mr. Collenette told reporters. "But it's more likely to be a gradual process."

If the proposal gets a long-term financial commitment in the budget, it would likely add to the list of expensive, long-range spending promises made by the Liberal government over the past year or so.

The budget, expected to be released this month, is scheduled to be Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's last.

Long-term spending promises could leave his successor, expected to be rival Paul Martin, with fiscal woes and little room to pay for his own plans or unexpected needs.

Mr. Collenette also said he has strong cabinet support for the high-speed rail proposal but that he has been given no commitment that it will garner any support in the budget.

"I've had some success," he said of his lobbying efforts with his colleagues. "There are a lot of train fans in cabinet."

Sources say Ottawa has been asked to provide initial funding for the project, but it's not clear how much -- if any -- of the total bill the government would pick up. Mr. Collenette wouldn't put a price tag on the proposal but it's believed Montreal and Toronto could be linked for about $3.3-billion.

Speaking one day after Canadian transportation giant Bombaridier Inc. unveiled a new jet-powered, high-speed train, the Toronto MP said he'd like "whatever money we can get."

"The market is there -- we need to service that market."

Two weeks ago, Finance Minister John Manley offered some support to the high-speed rail proposal.

Mr. Collenette said his first priority would be the heavily populated Windsor, Ont.-Quebec city corridor but that he'd also like to see high-speed rail service in Alberta. "It would make some sense to have a fast train between Calgary and Edmonton."

Via Rail Canada Inc., the passenger service operator owned by the public, also hopes to extend its service to key U.S. cities, such as Detroit and Boston.

Bombardier, meanwhile, is billing its new 240-kilometre-an-hour train as a Kyoto Protocol-friendly, convenient alternative to congested airports and highways that could shave hours and discomfort off intercity trips.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

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