Millions are being spent on a long-awaited high-speed rail corridor that will slash travel times for Ontarians travelling between Toronto and Windsor, the province announced today.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday that the province is moving ahead with preliminary design work of the rail line which, if completed in 2031, will connect Toronto to Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Chatham and Windsor.

A comprehensive environmental assessment of the project has also begun and will be conducted as a joint provincial-federal initiative. It’s projected to cost $15 million.

“The Toronto to Windsor corridor is home to over seven million people and over 60 per cent of Ontario’s economic activity. That’s really the piece I want to emphasize. This is where our economy thrives, along that corridor, that Toronto to Windsor corridor,” Wynne said from London, Ont. “We need to make sure we keep it the vibrant and diverse region that it has been and provide the connectivity that will allow it to thrive”

While an initial “pre-feasibility” assessment has already been completed, Wynne said a second, more complex evaluation will examine specifications of the line and “all other aspects of major infrastructure work.”

A report commissioned by the Ontario government and carried out by former federal transport minister David Collenette was released today and makes a number of recommendations about the project. Collenette pegs the cost of the line at around $20 billion and recommends that the province look to the private sector for funding partnerships.

Holding a promise of efficiency, the report proposes two scenarios for train speed.

The first option shows that trains could travel at a maximum speed of 300 kilometres per hour, reducing travel time between Toronto and Windsor from four hours to just under two. It pegs the capital cost for the Toronto-London portion at $15 billion and London to Windsor for $4.4 billion.

This option would accumulate “significant costs” due to tunneling along the corridor, the report says.

In the second scenario, trains would travel up to 250 kilometres per hour and reduce travel times between Toronto and Windsor from four hours to just over two. The projected cost sits at more than $4 billion for the Toronto-London segment and $3.4 billion for London-Windsor.

The report estimates that the line would attract about 10 million people annually by 2041.

Wynne says the long contested rail line is an “extremely ambitious” project that will ultimately “cut travel time significantly” and encourage economic development to the communities involved.

“There are private enterprises here in London and in Kitchener-Waterloo and Windsor who need this economic driver. They need to be able to bring people to their workplaces. They need to be able to create jobs on the basis of the connectivity of this corridor,” she said. “I also know that we’ve lost opportunities as a province because we haven’t had this line in place.”

Wynne acknowledged that “excuses” have fueled the delay of the line, which has been debated since the 1970s. She vowed that, so long as she is premier, the corridor will happen and that the public will be made aware of any changes to the total cost.

“When I was the Minister of Transportation I met officials who had been working on high-speed rail for decades because his is an idea that has been around for a very long time,” she said. “The best time to build this was 40 years ago, but the second best time to build it is today.”

As part of the report, the Ontario government would work in conjunction with VIA Rail and Metrolinx while also seeking out private financing.

A new government body is also expected to be formed and will be tasked with overseeing the design and implementation of the rain line.

“I want to emphasize this will be one of the biggest and more expansive environmental endeavors taken in the province,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said Friday, calling the project a “complex process” in terms of specifics.

The plan is to complete the high-speed rail line in two phases – the first being the Toronto to London corridor and the second as London to Windsor.

Both could be up and running by 2025 and 2031, respectively.

With files from the Canadian Press