Friday, December 9, 2011

Are the Canadians smarter than we are? Yes, when it comes to High-Speed Rail

Attention K-Mart shoppers !  Here's our question for today.  Are the Canadians smarter, or at least more thoughtful about high-speed rail than we are?

To jump to the end of this reasonable article first, the Canadian pro-HSR advocate spokesman, Paul Langan, points out, “Uzbekistan has high-speed rail. And we don’t,”  

Yes. But I would want to respond to that sentence for the rest of the Canadians by saying  “Uzbekistan has high-speed rail. And therefore we don’t.”

So, what does this article say?  

--There will be no return on investment despite big development costs. (I'm using their terminology.) 

--They've already done seven reviews of such a project since 1991.  I say, better to review more before starting actual construction spending.  The well-known carpenter's saying is: "Measure twice, cut once." 

--They don't want to do a project that is so expensive; it's not a priority for them. How reasonable is that!

--The financials about HSR are very important. They want to be much more thoughtful about this.  

--They consider various routing options as "hypothetical."  

--They believe that people need to be railroad riders in larger numbers (for shorter distances; as in, commuters) before committing to such a massive investment in HSR.   

--They call for a "cultural shift" by which I construe that to mean, they need to be far more passenger rail transit oriented.  You might say, like they are in Japan and Europe.

The first thing I'm learning from our northern neighbors is that they see high-speed rail in cost-benefit terms.  We don't. They see high-speed rail in transit and transportation terms. We don't.  They see high-speed rail as the "icing on the cake" of regular rail.  We don't.  They are able to seriously consider that maybe, just maybe, high-speed rail is too expensive and not that necessary for their nation.  We don't.

Certainly in these terms, it's no contest about which Nation is smarter. 

High-speed rail takes another bullet

By Jeff Outhit, Record staff 

Fri Dec 09 2011 

High-speed rail is unlikely in Canada. We drive, we fly. Now there’s a new twist. If any fast train ever gets built, it likely won’t stop here.

Last month, senior governments released their latest study on super-fast trains. It looked at diesel trains at 200 km/h and electric trains at 300 km/h, comparable to trains in Asia and Europe.

The study found that high-speed rail would be technically feasible between Windsor and Quebec. It would draw enough passengers to pay operating costs. But it would cost $20 billion to launch. Taxpayers would have to fund big development costs without a financial return on the investment.

Citing the price tag, politicians are clearing space on a crowded shelf for the study. It’s the seventh review to go nowhere since 1991.

“In these fiscal circumstances, a new project of this scope is not a priority for our government,” federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel said.

“The fiscal context has become very important,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said. “It’s time for us to pause and reflect the merits of starting that kind of a project at this point in time.”

If fast trains are installed between Windsor and Toronto, the report recommends against sending them through Kitchener. We’re too close to Toronto for high speeds to be viable, and we’re getting GO Transit commuter trains. Put stations in Hamilton and London and speed trains along a route south of Waterloo Region.

“It’s all hypothetical,” Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr said.

Zehr likes the concept of high-speed rail but figures it won’t happen until more people ride trains for shorter distances. “We have to have more of a cultural shift before a high-speed rail would be put in place.”

“Since I live up here I like to see it up here,” said Paul Langan, Cambridge founder of the advocacy group High Speed Rail Canada. “I also understand that high-speed rail makes more sense when you’re travelling greater distances.”

Langan figures super-fast trains are dead without greater political vision. “Uzbekistan has high-speed rail. And we don’t,” he says. “From my perspective, it’s just another report that the government’s not going to act on.”

His advice: Speed up slow-moving passenger trains on the current tracks to Toronto. Walk first, maybe some day we’ll run.

Jeff Outhit can be reached at 519-895-5642 or

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