High-Speed Rail in Canada?

Canada's flirtation with high-speed rail (which ended prematurely in 1968 when the TurboTrain crashed into a meat delivery truck) is covered in June's edition of The Walrus. The piece, by Monte Paulsen, is a great read. Besides the short-lived career of the TurboTrain, it also covers the slow demise of Canada's passenger rail service and the many near misses that have marked attempts to bring it back to life.

Forget about "high-speed." Anyone whose done long distance rail travel in Canada knows that even "average-speed" trains would be nice. On rails where freight has priority, you can wait on a siding for 45 minutes for a freight train to pass you buy before you get back on your way. Besides the lack of dedicated passenger track, I've always though that Canada didn't have the population to support high-speed services. Apparently I was wrong. Here are a few excerpts, but I highly recommend getting a copy to read the full piece [addendum, here's a link to the full article]:

"The driver of an empty meat truck near Kingston was used to beating trains across a level cross and tried to outrun the Turbo... We cut the truck in two, like a hot knife through butter."

"Why are [Japan, South Africa, France, Iran, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and many other countries] planning and building high-speed rail lines? Because they're a kind of insurance policy for the twenty-first century. High-speed rail ensures that cities remain connected the next time the price of oil rises... Because it is so much more fuel efficient, high-speed rail is far, far greener than flying, and in a century of dwindling oil it's also far more economically sustainable -- a fact that Saudi Arabia seems to grasp, but Canada does not."

"Since the Turbo's demise, a parade of proposals to restore high-speed passenger rail to Canada have come forward. [Primarily for the Quebec City-Windsor corridor and to connect Calgary and Edmonton] 'What is the point of another study?' asks Paul Langan [head of the citizen's group High Speed Rail Canada]. 'It was viable in the 1980s. it was viable in 1995. Like all the previous studies, this one will come back and say, 'Yes, we have the population to support it. Yes people will ride it. Yes, it will pay for itself.' "

Now if only they could get one up and running before I do the Montreal-Edmonton run in a few weeks...

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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