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Where Are We Going in 2010 With High Speed Rail in Canada?

This summer has been busy for Canadian business, winning contracts and investing in operating high speed rail lines. The only problem is that it is not happening in Canada.

Bombardier Incorporated, in a joint venture, has won a contract for 40 high-speed train sets from China's Ministry of Railways, worth about $761 million.

Two Canadian pension funds have joined forces to bid for Britain's only high-speed rail line, three people familiar with the matter said. Borealis, the infrastructure investment arm of Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, is working with Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP) on a joint offer for High Speed 1, which has a 30-year concession to run a 110 kilometre (70 mile) railway linking London and the Channel Tunnel.

In Canada the quest for modern passenger rail service in 2010 continues to be an uphill struggle. The main blame has to go to politicians who lack any type of vision or defined plans for high speed passenger rail.

Alberta - Federal and provincial politicians along with their City of Calgary and Edmonton counterparts are in the dubious position having two current high speed rail studies completed and no action has been taken. It is simply embarrassing that there is no passenger rail service at all between the province’s biggest cities, and the deadly Highway 2 remains the only choice for Albertans who want to travel by land.

Ontario-Quebec - Two current Ontario/Quebec high speed rail studies are not being released. Perhaps its a good thing the studies are not released as the present federal government has no passenger rail vision or policy. It does not seem to matter that the public, municipal, provincial and federal politicians along the line want effective and efficient passenger rail service.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper ignores the issue of modernizing our inter city passenger rail. VIA Rail continues to stagger along with high fares and low speeds that make it not an option for the majority of Canadians.

According to Corporate Knights Magazine, in 2007-2008, the Government of Canada spent only $326 million on passenger rail compared to $20.9 billion on roads.

Recent blogs and editorials have addressed this topic in interesting ways. Blogger Joseph Uranowski has some very negative things to say about Prime Minister Harper and his government’s lack of commitment to passenger rail. Joseph fails to mention that no previous federal governments have moved forward on high speed rail either.

Then there is an article by Robert Pressor in The Metropolitain, a bilingual newspaper in Quebec that started in 2008, on high speed rail. I won’t take Pressor to task about some of the statements about true high speed rail in his articles. Okay just one example.

His suggestion that the existing schedule between Toronto and Montreal was ok and that the government's current investment will make it even better is weak. As I have mentioned several times, the federal government's money for VIA Rail improvements on the Toronto to Montreal line will only bring schedule time improvements like we had in 1975! I am not sure how that is anything to cheer about.

Pressor did suggest using the cheaper solution by running faster trains on existing track.

The fundamental flaw is that CN Rail doesn't even want passenger trains on their lines. Who can forget then CN President Paul Tellier's speech in front of a New York business audience where he let slip,"I wish we could get rid of them".(in reference to VIA Rail)

For a good present day example; MoreTrains website has the latest on the ongoing saga about a CN leased line (to Rail America, an American short line rail company). For over a year Rail America has been fighting VIA Rail to try and keep them from adding more trains through Kitchener and Guelph into Toronto. The dispute is currently at the Canadian Transportation Agency.

I do love Pressor’s Bombardier's Jet Train example though. I had high hopes that it would be sold somewhere. (Alberta, Florida) It seems the High Speed Rail Canada Youtube Video Channel footage of the Jet Train operating on the test track is becoming increasingly rare footage. I have been looking for over a year for where the Bombardier Jet Train is being kept. It seems to have disappeared from public view.

I had hoped President Obama's vision and action plan of revitalizing passenger rail in the USA would have spurred on our own government to action. Unfortunately nothing has happened. We will keep pushing and make modern passenger rail service a reality in Canada.


  1. Do you have a reference for Paul Tellier's speech where he made that quote about VIA Rail? I have been trying to find it without success...


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