The Future of High-Speed Rail


CanWest News reported yesterday that federal MPs are headed to Washington to find out more about the Obama administration’s high-speed rail plans:

A foreign fact-finding mission this month by a four-party delegation from Parliament will raise the profile of high-speed rail in the political agenda with a general election looming on the horizon, federal MPs say.

Representatives from the Conservative government and the opposition parties will travel to New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20 for a few days to ride the national Amtrak passenger service’s Acela Express in a bid to find out more about the U.S. high-speed rail plans. They will also meet with officials from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Unreported was the fact that the Conservative MPs who sit on the parliamentary transport committee, Mervin Tweed and Brian Jean, represent the largely rural ridings of Brandon-Souris and Fort McMurray-Athabasca. I’m sure they have a terribly keen interest in mass transit and high-speed rail.

Fort Mac



Filed under STEPHEN HARPER Govrnment of Canada

34 responses to “The Future of High-Speed Rail

  1. Big Winnie

    More wasted taxpayer money…This gov’t won’t even improve the existing rail service…What a farce!!

  2. Iciu

    They do have to start somewhere, eh?
    Maybe talking to the Japanese and the Europeans would have been more constructive (it’s true, I do no know how the current/implemented American technology compares with those) in this field of investigation (but it would have been more expensive on short term – few people seem inclined to think long term these days).

  3. If Brian Jean, in particular, doesn’t have any interest in a high-speed rail route through Athabasca, he should.

    His riding could transform itself from a cottage-country retreat to a transportation hub servicing a number of smaller rural communities, as well as establishing itself as a gateway to Fort MacMurray.

  4. Gayle

    I have met Brian Jean – and I have nothing good to say about him.

    That said – the issue of a high speed rail is not new to Alberta. There has been a lot of talk about high speed rail between Edmonton and Calgary. Another route between Edmonton and Fort Mac would probably also be a good idea due to the high traffic in that area. A lot of people travel between Edmonton and Calgary (where they live) and Fort Mac (where they work).

  5. As nice as that would be, I don’t think there’s the population needed to make that a cost-effective proposal. However, between Quebec City and Windsor (or various routes within that corridor) there are viable possibilities.

  6. Dan

    Once again this shows that if you live in a big city (other than possibly Calgary) and you vote Conservative, you are incapable of comprehending your own interests.

  7. Bob

    “Ottawa will pay Canadian National Railway Co. $300 million to expand and upgrade the tracks between Montreal and Toronto, an overhaul that will largely benefit passenger carrier Via Rail.

    The two-year program will add tracks at eight “pinch points” along the 539-kilometre stretch that has long been the source of bottlenecks and delays for Via Rail trains, and friction between Via Rail passenger trains and CN freight trains. The latter owns and operates the tracks, and its freight trains always take precedence.

    The $300 million will come out of two infrastructure improvement programs totalling $923 million that have already been announced, said Via Rail spokesperson Malcolm Andrews.

    The bulk of the $300 million — $230 million — will be drawn from the $407 million Ottawa earmarked for Via Rail in the infrastructure part of its economic stimulus package last fall. The other roughly $70 million will be part of an earlier $692-million program, of which $516 million was set aside for capital expenditures like the one announced Thursday.”

  8. Bob

    $407-million upgrade to Via Rail tracks in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor, to improve express service.

    This includes a third track at key choke points.

    This is what responsible governments do.

  9. Bob

    The recently opened Canada line cost $115 million per kilometer to build twenty four kilometers for a cost of a little over $2 Billion dollars, including rolling stock and stations. This is a relatively slow speed urban transportation system.

    The Windsor corridor is some 539 kilometers long, to build a dedicated two track high speed rail system could cost upwards of $60 Billion, probably quite a bit more owing to land acquisition costs for the right of way and the much higher cost of rolling stock for HSR.

    The current program of upgrading the existing track and adding a third track at the eight choke points is the responsible thing to do.

  10. Bob

    I trust you are doing well this weekend Martin?

  11. Ah, hold on. I should elaborate.

    A national high-speed rail line would more likely run east-west. But if the federal government decides to build one (not the worst idea I’ve ever heard, as I think we’re due for a legitimate wealth-creating national project) the Alberta provincial government will probably build a north-south running train.

    The clear cost-benefit basis of this would deal with the question of whether or not the still-severe housing situation in Fort MacMurray would be alleviated by enabling people to live in some of the cottage communities surrounding places like Athabasca and Grassland and commute to Fort Mac by train.

  12. Just fine “Bob” — thanks for asking.

    Nice to see you’ve got your talking points handy.

    Do you honestly believe that the value of land for each and every kilometer in the Windsor-Quebec corridor is the same as that in metro Vancouver? (A: Not.) Also, doesn’t Via and the freight railways already own the land around their existing track infrastructure?

  13. TofKW

    I’ll answer your question Red, but you probably already know the answer. All railways in Canada are privately owned, with the exception of a few sections around Ottawa that are owned by VIA which is a crown corporation. And they all have to pay taxes on their rights-of-way (a disadvantage to them versus the trucking and airline industries).

  14. TofKW

    Oops – forgot to add the part about how, yes, they own the land their tracks are on too.

  15. Thanks for the confirmation.

    I think “Bob” has his facts wrong, but that’s nothing new. A 1995 study indicated the cost of a high-speed rail link (covering 1,200 Km not the 539 Km “Bob” used for his calculations) to be $20 billion. The Ontario and Quebec provincial governments are presently updating that report (at the cost of $3 million) to get current figures.

  16. hemmingforddogblog

    “The recently opened Canada line cost $115 million per kilometer…”

    where did you get this figure? sounds a little high…or made up…

  17. Bob

    The most likely equipment to be used on Windsor-Quebec will be Acela which can utilize much of the existing track, not the TGV system from France(too expensive);

    With a top speed of 150 mph (241 km/h) the Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 125 mph (201 km/h) definition of high speed rail.[30] The Acela achieves an average speed of 80 mph (129 km/h) between Washington and New York, which is comparable to the Denver Zephyr service that ran at an average speed of 77 mph (124 km/h) between Chicago and Denver in the early 1960s. The highest speed attained by Acela Express is 150 mph (241 km/h) on two sections of track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. There are also many miles of track, especially east of New Haven, that have been upgraded to allow maximum speeds in excess of 110 mph (177 km/h). South of New York, Acela Express is limited to 135 mph (217 km/h), even though several stretches of track there are straight enough to allow 150 mph (241 km/h) speeds. The limiting factor is stated to be the overhead catenary support system which was constructed prior to 1935 and lacks the constant-tension features of the new catenary east of New Haven, although in the late 1960s the Pennsylvania Railroad did run Metroliner test trains as fast as 164 mph (264 km/h) and briefly intended to run the Metroliner service at speeds reaching 150 mph (241 km/h). Although the Acela Express trainsets are capable of 165 mph (266 km/h) operation, FRA regulations do not permit any speeds above 150 mph (241 km/h) on tracks that are shared with freight and slower passenger trains regardless of circumstances, and for Acela Express trains to run above 150 mph (241 km/h) it would require purpose-built dedicated track in a separate right of way.

  18. Why didn’t you just provide a link to Wikipedia? 😉

  19. I am generally in support of this because we all should know that gas prices are going to climb if/when the world comes out of recession and the airlines will be back in the courts under bankruptcy protection. It is in the national interest to put in place several efficient ways to cover long distances quickly.

  20. Bob

    No link Martin, because this way the info is in your face, so to speak.


  21. That’s all terribly fascinating but where are you getting your dollar figures from?

  22. Dan — Personally, I’d rather take the train than fly/drive even at its present speed. I used to do that occasionally when I lived in Windsor. It was a pleasant change… very relaxing. (Especially with the free brandies on the return homestretch!)

  23. Bob

    The news outfits have reported cost figures from $1.9 to $2.2 billion and the reported length of the line from 19 km to 24 km, so take your pick.

    From Translink;

    “Canada Line is here! SkyTrain’s newest line opened August 17, 2009 and brings rapid rail service to Metro Vancouver’s busiest north-south corridor, linking Downtown to Richmond and
    Canada Line adds 16 new stations and 19 km to the SkyTrain network. Nine stations are located in Vancouver, with four in Richmond and three on Sea Island serving the Airport.”

    So 19 km’s, cost per km=$100 to $115 million per, which ever way you want to slice it.

  24. Bob

    If anything the Windsor Quebec corridor will be seeing the Amtrak Acela type of train(apple) which were built by Bombardier to operate on upgraded track, not the dedicated twin track TGV style(oranges)HSR, too costly.

    Later Martin

  25. Bob

    the new RAVLine (CanadaLine) is 24 km; about 18km of tunnel. this includes numerous stations; bridges; all new trains. as red says, land costs are high (highest in the country); and now compensation for nuisance to vendors. skytrain is uber expensive compared to lrt, but is better for suburban links. as for it being slow, they do reach 90km/h…not exactly crawling.

    disagree with the plan to upgrade track in quebec-windsor. spend the money on actual high speed rail. 3 locations in the country can feasibly support it. this should be a no brainer

  26. Bob

    9.1 km of tunnel and the expropriated land costs only occurred at on grade and elevated sections.

    Dedicated twin track HSR is too expensive.

    Then I wouldn’t expect any Liberal to give up on pie in the sky dreams.

  27. sapphireandsteel

    Lol I could imagine the conservative Skytrain would be a tractor hauling three hay wagons.

  28. I would imagine that back in the 19th century, the dreary creature known as “Bob” would have opposed the construction of a transcontinental railway as being too expensive or impractical.

    Fortunately for us, real conservatives of that era such as Sir John A. weren’t afraid to have bold, imaginative visions…

  29. sapphireandsteel

    Sigh, it’s been ages since a real conservative or intelligent conservative existed in politics… Instead we get a sow in a silk suit like Jason Kenney.

  30. sapphireandsteel

    FWIW the Canada Line means you can actually take a train to the airport, something no other major city in Canada can do. After taking cabs and airporters out to various airports, I for one am happy not to have to do that anymore. Plus, having a direct train to the airport is actually relieving congestion on the public transit system in Vancouver; which has a very high ridership. I for one don’t miss the 98 b-line that used to pass by the airport. Obviously Bob hasn’t had to deal with things like oversized luggage in an aisle when you’re trying to get to work.

    I wonder if Bob actually understands the term investment beyond the dollar value. The benefits of having an HST line like the Canada Line often cannot be measured in dollar value. I for one save thousands every year on gas, car insurance and a car as do thousands of others. Not only is the extra dosh feel good in the bank account, my carbon footprint is loads smaller than Bob’s.

    My ass is probably smaller than Bob’s too.

  31. Now, if they could get a branch line down to Tsawwassen and improve the bus service on this end (more express routes!) that would terrific!

    More generally, perhaps “Bob” doesn’t appreciate the massive loss of productivity that results from inadequate infrastructure. IBM has estimated that Canada loses almost $4 billion a year just from traffic congestion alone.

  32. sapphireandsteel

    Agreed, I’d love to see an end of the Ladner Exchange horrors of travelling to the Island.

  33. Ah, the dreaded Ladner Exchange…

    It used to take me about 8 hrs. to get from Coquitlam to the Colwood here on the Island (seven buses and two LRT trains). That’s a whole day in transit just to make the short hop from Vancouver to Victoria. Ridiculous.

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