VIA RAIL Canada Locked in the Past

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VIA RAIL Canada Locked in the Past

One thing is constant in Canada - we never really move forward to having a truly modern passenger rail system. Periodically the government invests in rolling stock for VIA Rail but then it is back to the ‘same old, same old’.  That is: slow trains, high fare prices, and the absence of safety requirements that are mandatory in other countries.

The federal government has recently given money ($1billion plus) to VIA Rail to update their aging fleet of passenger rail vehicles. Just like the previous 2002-2003 federal government VIA Rail Renaissance Funding, this funding is heralded as modernizing VIA Rail service.  It remains to be seen if Canada can ever have a modern passenger rail system.

The federal infrastructure bank is ready to invest in big infrastructure programs. Should they invest in VIA Rail’s flawed High Frequency Rail (HFR) plan?

HFR (High Frequency Rail)

I have written extensively about this plan by VIA Rail to use an abandoned CP (Ontario-Quebec Railway) rail corridor through sparsely populated areas to improve trip times. Sadly, the trip times between Toronto-Montreal via Ottawa will not be significantly reduced. The same issues persist: slow trains, numerous level crossings, and higher prices. Somehow VIA Rail thinks this is the answer.

The former VIA Rail CEO, lawyer Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, was well known for his anti- high speed rail views. He spoke out against it a number of times to the media. He was a champion for VIA’s HFR project. The new VIA Rail CEO, lawyer Cynthia Garneau, is continuing her support for HFR. Her views on high speed rail are unknown.

Cultural Crisis

The mindset that we can use the existing track or abandoned track for traditional speed trains and bring back the perceived good old days of when people actually travelled by train is a fable. Rehashing old ideas to solve modern problems simply does not work. We are in a cultural crisis and we need innovative solutions.

Down in Southwestern Ontario the same problem exists with the idea of High Performance Rail (HPR) that has been suggested as a plan to revive VIA Rail. Back to the 1960s we go, as this plan offers nothing new. It leaves us with slow trains on existing tracks with VIA Rail’s high prices, numerous level crossings, and a lack of the most up-to-date safety requirements.

Ironically, writer H.G. Wells discussed this very real problem in his 1902 speech to the Royal Institute in London. The speech was entitled ”The Discovery of the Future”. Mr. Wells critiqued how people would use the past to justify the present without looking to the future for solutions. One hundred and eighteen years later and Canada is locked in a cultural crisis regarding passenger rail service in this country.

How long can we look at the past and present as the only way to think about how to improve passenger rail service in this country? The future is high speed rail, and many other countries have figured this out. When will Canada?   

Paul Langan, President High Speed Rail Canada, http://highspeedrailcanada.com