Tag Archives: “high-speed rail”

Toronto: things could be so much worse

1) It’s a recession, sure, but in the long-run Toronto may come out on top. So says Richard Florida, not for the first time, but it needs to be repeated until people understand that the collapse of Detroit is not the collapse of civilization.

2) GO Transit is getting $500 million (pledged last year) for service and station improvements while transit agencies in the US are facing catastrophic budget shortfalls. We can argue about the merits of giant parking structures at train stations (for which a good chunk of the cash is targeted), but its better than nothing.

2 and a half) Michael Ignatieff makes the right noises about high-speed trains.

bonus half) Awarded to a comment following the train post:

Ignatieff is endorsing a high-speed train now? Please! All the pounds sterling in the Empire would not suffice to push steel through the cold, inhospitable Canadian wilderness! The Dominion would surely bankrupt itself upon such an endeavour, and we should be quite happy with a ragged dirt track in the horseshoe with signs every kilometre reading “WINZOR DIS WAY”.

– guest comment by Sir George Brown’s reanimated corpse

(photo credit)


Niagara-GTA Corridor

Further to the possibility of a HSR connection between Toronto and Buffalo (and points beyond), where would that line go? The photo that follows shows a high-speed AVE track in Spain. Note the width and extensive grading.

Assuming the same improvements need to be made for our own HSR, I’m not sure it will fit along the lakeshore corridor or below the escarpment without being either highly disruptive or substandard (and slow).

Maybe that’s unavoidable once you get past Hamilton; there’s no clear approach to Union, so why not take the route which services the most people? On the other hand, maybe we’ll get some brand new high-speed tracks out of this much-maligned Niagara-GTA Corridor.

(photo credit)

High-speed Commute

From the Toronto Star:

Written by a team of civil engineers at the University of Toronto, the report estimates the total cost of infrastructure work at up to $27.5 billion. But they say their recommendations address the two most pressing issues today – global warming and global recession.

The report proposes 560 kilometres of high-speed electric track that runs from Toronto north to Orillia, east to Peterborough and west to a corridor that includes Waterloo, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. It would take at least a decade to build and cost anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion, depending on the route and technology chosen.

The rail system would help create a high-density “mega-region” by improving transportation and attracting what the report calls well-paid “creative” jobs, such as those in aerospace, finance and telecommunications.

“A high-speed rail network knitting Ontario’s cities together could revolutionize the province’s role within the continental and global economic systems,” it says.

Called Infrastructure and the Economy: Future directions for Ontario, the 30-page report was delivered Thursday to economist Roger Martin and urban theorist Richard Florida, appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to chart a course to economic prosperity. Its recommendations will likely form part of the final report to the premier, expected in February.

I think the merits of this proposal might be a little hard to grasp because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions about transit in the GTA. When we think of transit as having a discrete hierarchy of layers which operate at different speeds and prices (e.g. buses, then subways, then GO trains, then airplanes), we usually consider high-speed trains to be a replacement for airplanes. But in this case, we’re essentially talking about high-speed GO Transit.

Without discarding the possibility of a high-speed line at least to Montreal in the east (for which there is almost certainly strong, immediate demand), these high-speed commuter lines around the GTA are worth considering.

This spring I visited the Toronto Zoo with some friends. We got on the subway at Islington, got on a bus at Kennedy, and discovered that Scarborough was a lot bigger than we expected. We were on the subway at least 45 minutes and God-knows-how-long on the bus. It might have been possible to take a GO train for part of our trip, but the poor service on weekends and non-Lakeshore lines generally makes this difficult to coordinate.  I’m not suggesting a high-speed GO train from Islington to the zoo, but our little (long) adventure illustrates the difficulty of moving around the city, even with the subway. And we were only crossing the 416! Imagine trying to get from Richmond Hill to Brampton.

Realistically, I don’t expect trains travelling at 400 km/h between Toronto and Waterloo. But even trains running at an average of 200 km/h would perhaps halve the travel time, far outperforming a trip down the 401. I have to wonder, what speeds does Metrolinx have in mind for trains on the future electrified lines (like Lakeshore).

By effectively collapsing space in the GTA we can mimic a denser region without physically moving our downtowns closer together. I’m looking foward to seeing the final report which this high-speed commuter proposal (presumably in modified form) will be a part of.

Wide Open Spaces

Chicago and Toronto are in pretty good shape relative to their Rust Belt neighbours. As far as I can tell from the Wikipedia numbers, the urban agglomerations on the south shore of Lake Michigan and the west shore of Lake Ontario are by far the most populous in the Rust Belt. The relative prosperity of Chicago and Toronto may in part be due to their critical mass which allows them to function independent of their surroundings.

Smaller cities like Cleveland struggle in isolation because they are not as self-sustaining. The only physical connections between Rust Belt cities and beyond are expensive airplane tickets or interminably long journeys by road.

The upcoming Democratic primary in Pennsylvania had drawn some attention to the contrast between Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west. Ryan Avent asks, why is eastern Pennsylvania so much more prosperous than the west?  His answer, after the break. Continue reading

Did I Speak Too Soon?

St. Pancras Station by sean-b

No sooner did I lament the sorry state of federal government in Canada and the unlikely progress of any plans for high-speed rail in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor than Premiers McGuinty and Charest get together and announce the intention to begin considering the study of the possibility of high-speed rail along the St. Lawrence. And all this with the cooperation of the federal government.

Granted, they’re aiming low and investigating a type of train that might be more honestly called higher-speed rail, but I’ll take it. By simply acknowledging that rail links will play a substantial role in future transportation, the political discourse has been shifted from “none or some” to “some or more.” With the Conservatives taking the side of “some” high-speed rail, the rest of the federal parties, all to the left of the government, are pretty much forced into advocating for more.

Sure, countless similar studies have been commissioned over the years, but let’s pay no attention to that because I’m tempering my cynicism tonight.

[photo] “St. Pancras Station” by sean-b

All Aboard

In writing a slow-going and not-yet-posted entry, I got to thinking about high-speed rail. Just how fast is it?

It takes five and three-quarter hours, according to Google, to drive from Union Station in Toronto to Gare Centrale in Montreal. At best, VIA Rail says they can do it in four hours, though most of their trains make the journey in five hours. It’s certainly an improvement over six hours on the 401 but taking the train is still a fair chunk of the day.

Compare that to the experience in France. Paris and Bordeaux are just a fraction of an hour nearer to each other than Toronto and Montreal; Google says it takes five and a half hours. On the TGV you can travel from Gare du Nord in Paris to Bordeaux in only three hours.

Can you imagine a Canada in which Montreal is only three hours from Toronto? We probably wouldn’t see many people making a daily commute, but you can bet it would take a lot of business away from the airlines on these short flights.

Win for the environment, win for commuters, win for a lucky few struggling manufacturers who get to build the rails, trains, and cars. Lose for the airlines, but I don’t think most people have any sympathy for those monsters.

Sadly, it’s all just a dream with the government we have now.

[photo] “300 Km/h” by Tramway de Lyon