Race to design and deliver Canada’s largest infrastructure project comes down to three


Three consortia comprising nineteen high profile companies remain in contention for arguably Canada’s largest ever infrastructure project – The High Frequency Rail Project.

The High Frequency Rail project aims to provide clean, safe and efficient inter-city transport in Canada while supporting economic growth and strengthening relations with indigenous communities. A detailed route will be developed by the winning consortia to join major cities with around 1,000km of new passenger track, facilitating around 17 million passengers per year with speeds of up to 200km/h.
Having completed the Request for Qualifications stage, the three shortlisted groups for the Request for Proposals stage are:
  • Cadence, made up of  CDPQ Infra, SNC-Lavalin, Systra Canada and Keolis Canada
  • Intercity Rail Developers, made up of Intercity Development Partners, EllisDon Capital, Kilmer Transportation, First Rail Holdings, Jacobs, Hatch, CIMA+, First Group, RATP Dev Canada, Renfe Operadora
  • QConnexiON Rail Partners, made up of Fengate, John Laing, Bechtel, WSP Canada, Deutsche Bahn.

Announcing the shortlisted groups, Omar Alghabra, Canada’s minister of transport, said: “I am thrilled that High Frequency Rail — the largest infrastructure project —is advancing to the next stage of the procurement process. This exciting initiative will require strong collaboration between Transport Canada, VIA HFR, and the selected private developer partner to create a sustainable foundation for the design and development of the project.”

The companies involved now have until September when the request for proposals will be issued. At that point they will be expected to deliver a technically and commercially feasible solution, a business plan and a management plan for the co-development, construction, and operations phases of the project.

By assessing all phases as part of the process, the government of Canada hopes to incentivise each consortium to examine the long term costs, efficiencies, benefits and opportunities that the project can deliver. 

Why high frequency rail? 

The Canadian government has made long term commitments to reduce carbon and improve the country’s sustainability. At present, travel between cities is a challenge to achieving this because 94% of current travel through the region between Québec and Toronto is undertaken by car, and only 2% by rail. 

To overcome this, a new dedicated passenger railway has the potential to take millions of vehicles off the roads between the cities of Toronto and Québec City, passing through Peterborough, Ottawa, Montréal and Trois-Rivières.

Reducing the pressure on passenger capacity along existing tracks between cities is also expected to help free up capacity for more rail freight. 

Practicalities being put at heart of project

The Government of Canada is implementing a robust cost management strategy for every phase of the project to ensure costs are contained. This includes annual cost updates, recurring due diligence reviews, and open-book reporting to manage costs and to report changes. Partners will also be incentivised to innovate and seek cost reductions to create better value for money, while protecting the public interest.

At the same time, advancing reconciliation with indigenous peoples is a priority for the Government of Canada, and early engagement with indigenous communities is already underway. The three shortlisted consortia have demonstrated through qualification, their capacity to work with the government to create mutually beneficial, socio-economic development opportunities for indigenous peoples.

And although the high frequency railway is not intended as a high speed rail service, it will significantly shorten journey times and the design phase will examine whether it the benefits would justify the costs of making some sections high speed. 

Robert Pritchard, chair of the High Frequency Rail Project board of directors commented: “The qualification of these three teams confirms that our bold project is on track, on schedule and gaining momentum. VIA HFR looks forward to partnering with the consortium that brings us proven expertise and an innovative approach to advance the development of the future intercity passenger rail that is frequent, fast and green.”