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Major overhaul will reshape rail service in Canada

Canada's passenger rail service is being revitalized with major upgrades from an investment of $270 million (U.S.) in federal infrastructure money.

The improvements on the busy Toronto-Montreal corridor are "nothing short of a reshaping of the Canadian railway map," said Donald Wright, Via Rail chairman.

Infrastructure work will take place at eight locations along the 330-mile, double-track line to eliminate delay-causing bottlenecks between passenger and freight trains.

Sections of a new third track will be added between Oshawa and Brockville, while a fourth track will be built at the Belleville station.

Over the past year, Via Rail has also upgraded locomotives, passenger cars and train stations with $460 million (U.S.) from the government.

The investments allow Via Rail to "continue moving forward, laying the foundations for higher-speed passenger rail service and a more reliable and sustainable service across Canada," president Paul Cote said.

Trains now exceed 100 mph on sections of the Toronto-Montreal route, making the trip in about four hours.

Harper calls deficit policy ideas 'dumb'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has criticized his budget officer by suggesting his thoughts about dealing with the deficit are "dumb."

Kevin Page said that after all the economic-stimulus spending, Canada won't have a surplus until 2013-14 and even then will still owe $15 billion (U.S.)

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Page's report was "pessimistic," but Harper rejected the notion Canada has a structural deficit requiring tax increases or cutting programs.

"There is no need for us to start slashing programs, nor is there any need for us to raise taxes," Harper said, adding: "That would be a very dumb policy."

News in brief

• This has been the deadliest month for international forces in Afghanistan with at least 50 deaths, including five Canadians. The latest fatality was Pvt. Sebastien Courcy, 26, a member of Quebec's Van Doos battalion. Since 2002, 125 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in the Afghan conflict.

• In naturally air-conditioned Canada, people have been left shivering in their shorts this summer. Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips said this is shaping up to be one of the coolest Julys on record. But predictions are for warmer-than-normal or near-normal temperatures over the next month.

• Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffeehouse icon, is brewing up a coffee war in the Big Apple. The chain has opened 12 outlets in New York City, some at world-famous tourist destinations including Times Square. The Riese Organization had a falling out with Dunkin' Donuts and switched to Hortons, which has about 500 U.S. locations and 3,000 in Canada.

Facts and figures

Canada's annual inflation rate slipped to below zero for the first time in 15 years last month at minus 0.3 percent. Leading the decline were gas prices, down almost 25 percent from last summer, and auto prices, off almost 6 percent last month.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate remains at 0.25 percent and the prime lending rate is 2.25 percent.

The Canadian dollar has advanced to 89.61 cents U.S., while the U.S. currency returns $1.1160 Canadian, before bank exchange fees.

Stock markets are higher, with Toronto's composite index at 10,399 points and the TSX Venture index at 1,098 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 3, 5, 16, 26, 40 and 45; bonus 31. (July 11) 9, 11, 18, 23, 29 and 40; bonus 26. Super 7: (July 10) 17, 25, 30, 31, 33, 44 and 46; bonus 47.

Regional briefs

• British Columbia has had its first death from swine flu, while hundreds of children at summer camps in Ontario have become infected. The death was a young child with "underlying medical conditions," raising the national toll from the H1N1 flu to 43, with 9,700 confirmed cases. Ontario health officials in Simcoe-Muskoka say 227 children attending several camps have the flu but all cases are mild.

• A woman dining at a downtown Montreal restaurant was killed by a piece of falling concrete. The unnamed 33-year-old victim was dining with her husband Thursday night at the Mikasa Sushi Bar when a slab of decorative concrete fell 17 floors from a hotel on Peel Street. It crashed through the atrium window of the restaurant in the Marriott Residence Inn.

• The Prince Edward Island government is prepared to put some wind back in the sails of an environmental company that has gone bankrupt. Innovation Minister Allan Campbell said the government will reopen Entegrity Wind Systems after it recently laid off its 35 employees. The company builds wind turbines suitable for generating power for small businesses and farms.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.

Major overhaul will reshape rail service in Canada 07/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 18, 2009 6:52pm]
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