Will Ontarians Ever Get High-Speed Rail?

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plangan plangan's picture
Will Ontarians Ever Get High-Speed Rail?

The traditional definition of high-speed rail (HSR) is passenger trains that go over 200 km/h. This definition, although a lofty one for current VIA Rail trains, is conservative. In other countries, HSR trains routinely travel at speeds of 250 to 350 km/h. Most, but not all, rail systems have routes that are dedicated to HSR. If we were to build a Windsor-Quebec City high-speed route, it could travel near the existing routes.

It is no secret that Premier Dalton McGuinty and the current provincial Liberal government brought GO Transit back from the brink of extinction after the Mike Harris Tories tried to download it to municipal governments. The McGuinty government's investment in GO Transit has been commendable. But what can the provincial governments of Quebec and Ontario do to make modern passenger rail a reality?

Consider these grim facts:

- Canada is the only G8 country without HSR service.

- Canada already had high-speed trains. In 1966, Canadian National (CN) unveiled its passenger train of the future: the Turbo train. Unfortunately, CN made one major error - it did not test the Turbo thoroughly in the Canadian winter climate. This resulted in a series of delays and breakdowns over the years. By the time the Turbo trains were running smoothly in the early 1980s, VIA Rail ordered them all scrapped. Regardless, the CN Turbo passenger train was capable of speeds of over 200 km/h on the Toronto- Montreal route. That was 40 years ago. Current VIA Rail trains take 45 minutes longer to make the trip from Toronto to Montreal.

- Transport Canada released an urban traffic congestion report, The Cost of Urban Congestion in Canada, which found that recurrent congestion was costing Canadians between $2.3 and $3.7 billion annually. According to the report, these costs are created by the extra time that passengers lose, and the extra fuel consumed.

- There is a need for humans to reduce their energy consumption, and HSR is part of the solution. The 1995 joint Federal/Ontario/Quebec government High Speed Rail Study states: "By the year 2025, annual energy consumption in the corridor associated with the conventional multi-mode scenario would be reduced by 20 per cent in the case of 300 km/h HSR.

- Burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment and human health. The Ontario Medical Association states that air pollution costs Ontarians over $1 billion per year in hospitalizations, emergency-room visits, and premature deaths.

- Atmospheric emissions contributing to the greenhouse-gas effect would be reduced by the introduction of HSR. According to the 1995 study mentioned above, "By the year 2025, annual emissions of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide related to inter-city travel within the corridor would drop by 24 per cent and 11 per cent with the introduction of 300 km/h technology." If you add in the stress involved with driving, and the true costs of owning and maintaining a vehicle, it is easy to provide a rationale to modernize Canada's passenger rail system.

- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent investment in VIA Rail will be used to triple track sections of the Toronto-Montreal route, to improve travel times and on-time performance. When this is completed, the resulting schedule improvements will only bring the train times to what they were in 1975.

It could get even worse. Under Tim Hudak, the Ontario Tories have released their election platform titled Changebook, which doesn't mention the words passenger rail or HSR at all. It does include statements like, "We will stop the war on the car." Since the Canadian federal government and the provincial governments have spent $88 billion on road building and maintenance in the last 10 years, what war is he talking about?

The Ontario NDP's Plan For Affordable Change only has one sentence about transit infrastructure. Like its federal counterpart, the NDP remains silent on modern passenger rail renewal in Canada. It is unfortunate that the NDP chose to remain out of touch on this subject.

But there is some hope. Public opinion polls in Canada over the last decade have repeatedly shown that Canadians support a modern high-speed passenger rail system.

Premiers McGuinty and Charest, and the mayors of the cities along the Ontario-Quebec HSR route, are champions of the idea. But the premiers cannot do it alone. The public must speak up and say to its elected members of federal and provincial Parliament, "Enough is enough." The tragic state of passenger rail service in Canada must be addressed. The premier, in his or her first week of office, must call Prime Minister Harper and state that they should work together to make the development of
modern passenger rail service between Ontario and Quebec a reality.

 

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Fidel

plangan wrote:
- Canada is the only G8 country without HSR service.

Come mister tally man tally me banana...

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Moved to Ontario forum

Tommy_Paine

"- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent investment in VIA Rail will be used to triple track sections of the Toronto-Montreal route, to improve travel times and on-time performance. When this is completed, the resulting schedule improvements will only bring the train times to what they were in 1975."

I deeply suspect this will have more to do with improving the on time preformance of CN freight, who will bully use of the rails just like they do on the current double track. 

There won't be high speed without a dedicated track.

And there won't be high speed rail as long as Air Canada and West Jet have thier way, which they do.

Wilf Day

Meanwhile, the present speed would be good if service improved and was promoted. The trains are often full, sometimes to the point of lack of comfort, but they don't add coaches or schedule more trains.

The need for speed is over-rated, because you can work and/or read on the train, so it's not down-time. My favourite example was when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was being signed April 17, 1982. On the Friday, thousands of Ontario lawyers got a book of papers on the new Charter, and heard 15-minute highlights on each of them. On Saturday the Queen came to Ottawa to sign, and my wife grabbed the opportunity to take our kids (8 and 6) to Ottawa to be part of the event. I followed, on the later train from Toronto. With almost four hours on the train, I had time to read the whole book; who else would have done so on a Friday evening? We always said that, when the Queen signed the Charter, I knew more about it than any other lawyer in Ontario.

Fidel

Personally I don't see how Canada can afford anything right now except more high speed oil and gas pipelines carrying energy South. And we have high speed hydro-electric transmission lines pushing massive amounts of electrical power to corporate America. It's a 24-7 high speed, North-South Oriented Express as far as I can tell. That has to count for something. They don't have high speed rail in Puerto Rico either, so why are Canadians complaining?

radiorahim radiorahim's picture

Wilf Day wrote:

Meanwhile, the present speed would be good if service improved and was promoted. The trains are often full, sometimes to the point of lack of comfort, but they don't add coaches or schedule more trains.

Agreed.  I'd rather have more frequent service at 100-120 kph than have the same frequency at 200+ kph. 

Back a few years ago when I was travelling in Europe on the rail system, I found myself missing a train at a transfer point.  I had that sinking feeling as I got off my train and then saw my connecting train pulling out of the station.   I went rushing around a crowded station on a Friday night pulling my bag behind. Despite my poor language skills I very quickly figured out that the next train was going to be an hour later....so hey...no big deal.   It was such a relief!

If this had been Via Rail I might have had to wait till the next day to travel.

In an ideal world of course I'd like high speed and high frequency.   But, I'll settle for improved frequency of service.

Why not have a train between Toronto and Montreal leaving every hour?   If we had service like that there would be much less car traffic and less air traffic.

Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

Yes high speed rail with enough scheduled trains and the sooner the better.  As someone from the west who has flown into Pearson many times it should definitely include a way of getting off a plane and on to rail to get to Oshawa or Sarnia etc.  Montreal would also need good connections to the airport for the same type of regional travel after a long flight.

outwest

High speed rail needs new tracks and is prohibitively expensive, while slower, tilt-track systems that can be run on existing tracks are cheaper and thus, more feasible. However, we won't get either in Alberta as we are constantly told that our "population numbers don't warrant it." This is total bunk, of course, because we had plenty of train service when the population was much scarcer. 

Wilf Day

Northern Shoveler wrote:

Montreal would also need good connections to the airport for the same type of regional travel after a long flight.

Montreal already has good connections; they were smart enough to build the airport right beside the main line. I can take a train to Montreal and get off at Dorval (all trains stop at Dorval) and get a free shuttle bus for the one-mile trip to the airport.

Vansterdam Kid

outwest wrote:

High speed rail needs new tracks and is prohibitively expensive, while slower, tilt-track systems that can be run on existing tracks are cheaper and thus, more feasible. However, we won't get either in Alberta as we are constantly told that our "population numbers don't warrant it." This is total bunk, of course, because we had plenty of train service when the population was much scarcer. 

The problem with using existing tracks is that they're always taken over by freight, so practically speaking building new tracks will have to be a part of the solution.

As for the speed vs frequency issue, if the speed isn't increased rail won't be economically viable when competing with air travel for mid-distance trips. I think both things need to be done at the same time for rail to be an economically viable competitor for cars/buses and air.

Fidel

Sweden has less than a third the population that Canada has, and Sweden has HSR services.

If Brazil can do HSR by 2016, so can we in the Northern Puerto Rico. We might have to order some corrupt stooges vacated from the halls of powerlessness before it happens though. First things first as they say.

plangan plangan's picture

Bottom line CN doesnt want passenger rail on their lines and do everything to make it unreliable.

How much more embarassing can it get - Uzbekistan gets high speed rail

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/Uzbekistan-shows-...

Policywonk

radiorahim wrote:

Wilf Day wrote:

Meanwhile, the present speed would be good if service improved and was promoted. The trains are often full, sometimes to the point of lack of comfort, but they don't add coaches or schedule more trains.

Agreed.  I'd rather have more frequent service at 100-120 kph than have the same frequency at 200+ kph. 

Back a few years ago when I was travelling in Europe on the rail system, I found myself missing a train at a transfer point.  I had that sinking feeling as I got off my train and then saw my connecting train pulling out of the station.   I went rushing around a crowded station on a Friday night pulling my bag behind. Despite my poor language skills I very quickly figured out that the next train was going to be an hour later....so hey...no big deal.   It was such a relief!

If this had been Via Rail I might have had to wait till the next day to travel.

In an ideal world of course I'd like high speed and high frequency.   But, I'll settle for improved frequency of service.

Why not have a train between Toronto and Montreal leaving every hour?   If we had service like that there would be much less car traffic and less air traffic.

I've been on the rail systems in Europe and Asia (the one in Japan is particularly good). If the service were better in Canada people would use it more even without high speed rail. Freight is more profitable than passenger service now (and more desirable than trucking). In general, low speed rail uses less energy than high speed rail, just as propeller driven aircraft use less energy than jet aircraft.

Sean in Ottawa

Don't know but we are getting railroaded at high speed if that counts

Fidel

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

Don't know but we are getting railroaded at high speed if that counts

Deal. It at least sounds fast. Andale! Ariba!

edmundoconnor

Does a gravy train count as HSR?

epaulo13 epaulo13's picture

..could we do both? slow provincially and fast cross canada.

wage zombie

Tommy_Paine wrote:

And there won't be high speed rail as long as Air Canada and West Jet have thier way, which they do.

I'd like to hear more about this, Tommy.