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Canada Toronto's Pearson rail-link project gets a builder

The proposed air-rail link train service between Pearson Airport and Union Station in downtown Toronto now has a builder.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette announced Thursday that a bid by Union Pearson AirLink Group, owned by SNC-Lavalin Engineers & Constructors Inc. and a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., has been chosen to build the project.

"This is an important step forward in taking Toronto's air-rail link project from concept to reality," Mr. Collenette said. "Residents of the Greater Toronto Area can now look forward to the day when this dynamic, new transportation service will supplement existing public transit options in the region."

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The service, called Blue 22 for the 22-minute trip between the airport and Union Station, would operate with conventional diesel trains on tracks that now carry Via Rail and GO Transit passengers between Union Station and Woodbine Racetrack in northwest Toronto.

Union Pearson AirLink Group would add a spur line to connect with the airport and build its own ticketing and embarkation area at either end.

The service, which would run every 15 minutes for a one-way fare of $20, will be privately financed and does not involve a federal subsidy. It is set to begin in 2008.

"The federal government is committed to helping address the congestion problems around Pearson Airport and throughout the Greater Toronto Area," said Mr. Collenette. "We have demonstrated this commitment by making strategic investments, totalling nearly $500-million, in key transportation facilities and public transit services for the GTA."

The SNC-Lavalin bid won over three other consortiums that the federal government asked last May to pitch proposals on the link this fall.

Representatives of Transport Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Railway Association of Canada, the city of Toronto, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Canadian National Railway, GO Transit, and Deloitte & Touche were involved in the evaluation process.

Despite the announcement, the air-rail link is not a done deal. However, as the winning bidder, SNC-Lavalin now can proceed to detailed negotiations with other key players, including Pearson Airport, CN Rail and GO Transit.

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For example, the company will need to work out the price of leasing track time from CN and space at Union Station. SNC-Lavalin would have to work out space arrangements at the airport as well.

The rail service would be built and managed by the private sector but federally regulated.

Last spring, Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin was part of a large consortium known as the Union Pearson Group but later broke away to bid on the air-rail link by itself.

In a release Thursday morning the Ontario Motor Coach Association said it hopes incoming prime minister Paul Martin will overrule the Union Station-Pearson Airport link project.

"It's not too late for Paul Martin to do the right thing," said Brian Crow, president of the OMCA. "His government should not be railroaded, so to speak, into funding the more expensive, tax money- dependent rail link that seems to be the latest 'legacy project' announced in the dying days of the Chrétien administration."

OMCA has proposed the construction of a dedicated coachway alongside the existing rail corridor.

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