Canada’s High Frequency Rail procurement to offer ‘more flexibility’

The Canadian government’s ambitious High Frequency Rail (HFR) project will use a progressive P3 model that offers the private sector “more flexibility than we have seen in almost any other project”, it has been claimed.

Speaking at the Canadian Council for PPPs conference, Vincent Robitaille, assistant deputy minister for the project at Transport Canada, said a progressive P3 model for the project would provide the best value for money for taxpayers.

He added that the procurement process would include “one of the longest co-development periods” that the industry has seen, with an estimation that this element of the procurement will take around 3.5 years.

He explained that a number of factors were behind the decision to make the HFR scheme the first federal project to be procured under a progressive P3 approach, including its size. “Nobody could bankroll HFR on their own,” he said.

Robitaille added that the overall ability of the market in the current economic climate and the difficulties facing the supply chain meant a traditional, fixed-price P3 contract was not an option.

Patrick Kelly, director general at Public Services Procurement Canada, agreed. “I am still a strong advocate for fixed-price P3 contracts,” he said. “But in this situation that was just not possible. So how do we keep the incentives and the best people from the private sector working with us, and how do we select the right team while keeping costs under control and getting the best innovation?” 

Kelly concluded that the progressive model offered the best way of achieving those aims.

The HFR procurement process will see the federal government working with a private partner to deliver a 1,000km rail line improving services through the major centers of Québec City, Trois-Rivières, Montréal, Ottawa, Peterborough, and Toronto.

Glenn Campbell, assistant deputy minister for investment, partnerships and innovation at Infrastructure Canada, would not be drawn on the anticipated cost of the project during the panel session - although he did say that while the federal government would have an eye on the capital costs, it would also be considering the benefit that it can bring.