Now on the plate of Canada’s ruling Conservative party: high-speed rail. The Tories, whose leader Steven Harper recently came close to being replaced by a rogue coalition of the Liberal, New Democratic, and Bloc Québequois parties, have been searching for a popular initiative to improve their popularity ratings, which have been falling steadily. Senator Leo Housakos, the Tory Party’s representative in largely opposition Montréal, has argued in favor of new and faster services along the Windsor-London-Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal-Québec corridor, which by itself reaches fifty percent of the Canadian population.
An independent group called High-Speed Rail Canada has been pushing for this type of improved service for twenty years, but the government has yet decide the ultimate routing or what kind of train technologies to use. One thing, however, seems sure: that the service should at the minimum connect Canada’s two biggest cities – Toronto and Montréal – with the national capital at Ottawa. In ideal conditions, that route would have a decreased travel time from 5 hours today on VIA Rail Canada service to 2.5 hours on electrified high-speed rail running at speeds above 150 mph. Based on foreign experience, investing in such a corridor would likely result in the almost complete suppression of flights between the cities and dramatically reduce automobile congestion between the cities.
But the government hasn’t yet made clear whether it would be willing to invest the tens of billions of dollars necessary to make such a project reality. It may also choose to simply upgrade existing VIA corridors to faster speeds. Another alternative that would reduce costs: taking advantage of Bombardier’s JetTrain technology, which allows very fast train speeds without corridor electrification. The fundamental problem with the JetTrain, of course, is its negative environmental impact.
The most effective economic generator, however, would be a full investment in very high-speed rail. But unless the Canadian government, in association with the provinces of Ontario and Québec, are willing to put up a very big sum of money from the start, this project will go nowhere.
Image above: from VIA Rail Canada