Possible train link between Detroit, Windsor in next 'year or 2:' Via Rail CEO

A fleet of new Via Rail train cars has arrived in Windsor, officials announced Thursday, June 27, 2024.  (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
A fleet of new Via Rail train cars has arrived in Windsor, officials announced Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

A rail connection between Windsor and Chicago could be as little as two years away, the CEO of Via Rail told reporters Thursday.

Officials from several levels of government gathered at a celebration of the new fleet of Via Rain trains that will now service Windsor.

But the topic of a cross-border rail link was top of mind with officials from Detroit also attending the ceremony.

"It's a very interesting project. We're working closely with Amtrak as well as the border services for both countries to make this project happen,"said said Via Rail CEO Mario Péloquin.

"There's a plan, there's funding, It is moving forward … There's some work to do to make Windsor Station a border station, but the plans are in place and you'll start seeing some Amtrak trains coming here and interchanging with our trains probably in the next year or two."

Péloquin said upgrades need to be made to place customs within the Windsor train station, and there are some minor upgrades that need to be made on a section of Amtrak track that would be used for the route.

Funding is not completely decided, Péloquin said, because there is still design work that needs to be done — but he said the investment is "significant."

Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin said a rail link between Detroit and Windsor could be in place within two years.
Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin said a rail link between Detroit and Windsor could be in place within two years.

Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin said a rail link between Detroit and Windsor could be in place within two years. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We're working with two different national governments as well as municipalities on both sides, railways and Amtrak and VIA," he said.

"It does take unfortunately a little bit of time to align everything, but we're working as fast as we can."

The idea of a cross-border link between Windsor and Detroit has been floated for years after a similar service ceased operations in 1971. The last direct Detroit to Toronto service operated in 1967.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said there's about $10 million in upgrades needed for the Windsor Via Rail station before it could be suitable for a Canada-U.s. link with Amtrak.

"We have had many discussions with our partners in Detroit and certainly we're advocating with the federal government to make sure that there are resources available," he said.

"Our main goal is to make sure they see this as a priority because it actually has an economic return to our country."

But, he says, they're advocating for this to be a priority with other levels of government, and are getting other mayors along the southwestern Ontario VIA corridor on board.

"To have access to that market and to make it seamless, I think it's incredible," he said. "Look coming to coming into Canada and getting new facilities here and being able to connect into our network only means good things for Windsor."

New trains boast better suspension, improved sustainability

The new fleet of trains will gradually replace the 77-year-old cars currently serving the southwestern Ontario corridor and will service the entire Quebec City to Windsor corridor by 2025.

The new trains are fully accessible, Péloquin said, and also include more leg room, wider aisles, better seats and improved suspension to help minimize the feeling of jostling while on board.

Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin was in Windsor to unveil the new fleet of trains servicing the southwestern Ontario corridor.
Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin was in Windsor to unveil the new fleet of trains servicing the southwestern Ontario corridor.

Via Rail CEO Mario Peloquin was in Windsor to unveil the new fleet of trains servicing the southwestern Ontario corridor. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"With the introduction of these new trains, our corridor fleet is now one of the most environmentally friendly fleets in North America," he said.

The trains have been deployed on the Montreal to Quebec City route and gradually made their way to Windsor. As the trains are delivered one per month over the next year, they'll replace the older cars still in service.