Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trains, not Planes or Automobiles

I finally got around to reading a Walrus cover story that caught my eye back in May but eluded me until now. Monte Paulsen's piece on high-speed rail, and how Canada has completely failed to capitalize on this great mode of transportation is a fascinating piece.


Anyone who has used VIA to travel anywhere in Canada knows that there are serious issues with the service, especially in comparison to European systems like France's TGV or Germany's ICE. As the article repeatedly points out, the core issue in Canada is the ownership of the tracks themselves. The fact that the privatized CN owns the tracks that VIA has to operate on has essentially crippled the market for traveling by train in Canada. This is increasingly problematic in a world where alternative energy sources and modes of transportation are the topic of the day, and we can't afford to continue ignoring the need to improve our rail system.

What I can't believe is that a nation whose history is so closely tied to the establishment of railway tracks is now the only G8 nation without high-speed train travel. How in the world has train travel not been maintained and championed both as a viable alternative to plane/automobile travel and also a symbol of Canadian national identity? Ever Canadian with a high school education has studied the history of the railway to death. How has no one succeeded in capitalizing on this when there has been viable technology around with which to establish a successful railway system since the 1970s?

Ok, so the heritage thing is a bit on the nationalistic soap box side, but the article points out how the business would work, the passengers would be there, and how now of al times is the time to do it. Where's John A. Macdonald when you need him? Where is someone who can channel that kind of enthusiasm for national interconnection, green transportation, increased trans-continental tourism, and simple control over our own railway system before the Americans get a hold of it?

I don't believe that the Halifax-Vancouver route would necessarily work for high-speed rail travel, it's just so long that the intital investment is way beyond our current level of potential commitment. But the Quebec City-Windsor and Edmonton-Calgary corridors, not to mention cross-border routes out of Toronto and Vancouver, beg that we put some stimulus into this kind of project. We need to open our borders and shorten the distances between our cities in order to promote business and interconnectivity, not to mention sustainability.

We need more trains, and less of this shit:

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