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Airport rail link faces obstacles

Project awaits new station management, federal minister says

By Joseph Hall
Toronto Star Transportation Reporter

Toronto won’t be on the fast track toward a high-speed rail link to the airport even if Ottawa announces its support for the project later this week.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette said in an interview this week the proposed link between Union Station and Pearson International Airport will still face obstacles.

The Star revealed yesterday the federal government is likely to announce support for Toronto’s waterfront renewal by week’s end and would include an airport link as part of the package.

But Collenette, a long-time champion of the link, said a new management structure must be installed at the Union Station, which the city took over in June, before a train to Pearson can be officially considered.

“Right now our department is working with city officials on the appropriate vehicle to manage the station,” he said. “And the new (Toronto) council will have to sign off on that before we can proceed.”

With municipal elections on Nov. 13 and the new council not meeting until December, any station management decision could be delayed well into the new year.

The federal election, expected to be called Sunday for Nov. 27, might also slow the process, Collenette said. He said the link would be built and run by the private sector. He has quoted building costs of between $250 million and $1 billion over the three years he has pursued the project.

After the management structure is settled, solicitations of interest from private sector companies for both the link and station redevelopment would have to be issued, which could add many more months to the wait.

“After both elections we’ll be able to pick up the pace,” Collenette said. “But in the meantime, the city and my department are preparing solicitations of interest to rejuvenate the station, and the (airport) link is part of that.”

At least five companies, including Canadian transportation giant Bombardier Inc., have expressed interest in building a link. There are, however, many divergent ideas on the best route and technology to use, and these differences could cause further delays, city officials say.