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Montréal Toronto

Canadian Conservatives Again Downplay Plan for Montréal-Toronto High-Speed Link

Government will instead invest in capacity upgrades to get trains running at speeds last seen in 1973

A month and a half ago, Canadian conservatives agreed to a $3 million study for a high-speed rail link between Windsor and Québec City, via Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal, far and away Canada’s most important corridor. But their support may have been ephemeral.

Yesterday, Transport Minister John Baird said that the state would invest in upgrades to speed the connection between Montréal and Toronto, but that the government wasn’t necessarily focused on expanding the program to include a true high-speed connection between the cities.

The investments proposed so far, part of a $516 million package adopted in 2007, include two more round-trips daily between Ottawa and Montréal and infrastructure investments that will decrease the travel time between the latter city and Toronto to four hours. Today on Via Rail Canada, that trip takes between 4h40 and 5h30, depending on the time of departure. The slightly longer-distance trip between Paris and Valence in France on the TGV takes 2h10 today, so it’s obvious that the government’s investments won’t amount to anything close to true high-speed service.

Mr. Baird made clear that he wasn’t interested in moving forward quickly with high-speed plans, suggesting instead that “Before we make a $30 billion decision … what we should do is get the facts in front of us. That’s what Canadians would expect.” The problem, of course, that the facts have been considered again and again, at least 16 times since 1973. The Quebec-Windsor corridor would make for an efficient and well-used high-speed system. Studying the same-old-same-old, without a commitment of financial or political support, is not going to solve the problem.

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High-Speed Rail Montréal Toronto

Canada Considers Québec-Windsor HSR Corridor, Again

High-speed line running through Toronto and Montréal getting another think-over

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday that Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is frowning on the idea of a high-speed rail line between Québec City and Windsor, via Montréal and Toronto, reports the Canadian Press. Mr. McGuinty, along with his centrist Liberal Party ally Québec Premier Jean Charest, have been strong supporters of the line, which would do quite a bit to connect the biggest cities in the two provinces. Mr. Harper’s conservative party has been notoriously uninterested in the project over the past twenty years of proposals, though recently the conservatives made a few moves that indicated they were interested in supporting the line.

Conservatives have agreed to spend $3 million to study the 1,200 km corridor once again. It will be considered by Wilbur Smith, an engineering consulting firm; Deutsche Bahn, the German rail operator; and a few other groups. According to the Toronto Star, the corridor has been studied at least 16 times since 1973. Ontario’s NDP Party leader Howard Hampton, on the left of Canada’s political spectrum, criticised the government’s reluctance to get moving:

“They’re going to study it again? You don’t need to study it again. The biggest issue is purchasing all of the land and purchasing some of the rail bed that belongs to CN or CP that you need to make this run… Everybody wants to study it because they think it will give them a good headline. We’re long past the study stage. Where’s the money to start doing it?”

The project, which I ranked as relatively worthwhile in the transport politic’s study of high-speed corridors,  would cost upwards of $30 billion if built at international high-speed standards, using electric propulsion and 200 mph trainsets. It would require a massive federal government intervention that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from the ruling conservatives, but it would reduce the travel time between Canada’s two biggest metropolises from 4h today to 2h18. Air traffic between the cities likely would, based on international experience, be almost entirely replaced by train travel.

The Québec-Windsor line has become Canada’s top rail priority over the past few years after Québec province dropped its efforts for a fast line between Montréal and New York City. Long-time Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau dreamed of implementing such a corridor and saw it as the third step in realizing his city’s dominance over rival Toronto, after the successful Expo ’67 and less praised (and very expensive) ’76 Olympics there. Those dreams have slowly faded as Montréal’s position compared to Toronto has diminished since the 1970s as a result of anglophone business moving to the latter city because of fears of a French Québeçois secession.

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Chicago Minneapolis Montréal New York Philadelphia Toronto Washington DC

Big News Day: DC, NYC, Chicago, Philly, Minnesota, and Canada

Chicago Bus Rapid Transit Corridors» Today’s Big News Day Update, from Washington, New York, Chicago, Rochester, Philadelphia, and Ottawa

  • The Overhead Wire brings us news we’ve been expecting for a while: the Dulles Rail Project, extending Washington‘s Metro system from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue, via Tysons Corner, is approved and will start construction soon. This project has been the subject of manipulation, deception, and outright lies by the Bush Administration over the past several years. Here’s the WaPo article.
  • But the Bush administration, whether we like it or not, will remain in office for the next week and a half, and so it continues to wreak havok. Chicago‘s $153 million plan for bus rapid transit lines across the city has been cancelled by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters after the city council failed to enact downtown congestion reduction fees on parking and deliveries by the deadline of December 31st. No extension was given – the funds were simply forfitted by the city’s mayor, Richard Daley. This makes the city’s Summer Olympic bid for 2016 seem a bit shaky, especially considering that transportation problems in the Windy City already had the bid on the rocks. By the way, this money (as well as $300 million more) was once designated for New York City before its congestion reduction plan failed.
  • Ben over at Second Avenue Sagas describes the State of the State Address given by David Paterson, Governor of New York. Though the state is facing a giant budgetary mess, the Governor pushed the Ravitch Report recommendations, the Second Avenue Subway, and the reconstruction of the Tappen Zee Bridge as part of a “brighter future.” Here’s the NYT interpretation.
  • Rochester, Minnesota‘s Mayor is interested in developing a high-speed rail link from Chicago to Minneapolis, via his city. Meanwhile, Canadian Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro is pushing for a link between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal, which would shorten travel times between the cities by half. Both are good plans – we’ll be coming out with a high-speed rail plan for North America as a whole, including these links, next week.
  • Montréal-based Bombardier, a train (and airplane)-making company, is considering how it might expand in the wake of the upcoming economic stimulus in the United States. The company is banking on the stimulus paying for new rail cars in Chicago, San Francisco, and New Jersey, all of which are in the process of refreshing their fleets. Meanwhile, Amtrak, whose funding has recently shot up, has already signed Bombardier for the renovation of its Acela Express trains, and replacements for the decades-old fleet of rail cars in the next few years is likely. Though the company currently has factories in New York and Pennsylvania, it may need to build new ones in the U.S. to handle the extra business.
  • The Delaware River Port Authority’s plan to expand the PATCO Hi-Speed Line from Downtown Philadelphia to Southern New Jersey has advanced a bit, with a locally preferred alternative being selected. The project, which may also involve the creation of a new LRT line instead of a simple expansion of the existing heavy rail PATCO, will follow the Conrail Right-of-way from Camden to Glassboro. The expected $3 billion cost of the project, however, is a real limitation: the project has received a $500 million commitment from the State of New Jersey, but that’s about it so far.
  • The Washington Post, finally, reports that light rail is overwhelmingly the preference for the Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, via Silver Spring, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. Though LRT will cost more to construct than the BRT alternative being considered, it will likely attract more riders and more transit-oriented development. Prince George’s and Montogmery Counties – on the poorer, eastern side of the line, and on the rich, western side, respectively, will vote individually on the matter in February or March. If one voted for LRT and the other BRT, trouble could ensue, but an LRT preference is looking increasingly universal.

Above: scuttled plans for the Chicago Bus Rapid Transit Program, from the Chicago Transit Authority.

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Chicago DOT Finance Toronto

Weekend Update: Transit Funding; Chicago Congestion Fees; Ontario HSR

Quick news updates:

  • Congressman James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is looking to dramatically improve mass transit’s share of total federal transportation outlays, reports the Wall Street Journal. This would be a dramatic improvement, as transit currently receives 25% of the total allocations put towards highways; Oberstar wants to increase that percentage to 40% – $12 billion in the next year alone.
  • As we reported last week, the failure of the auto bailout would also mean that the transit agencies that had lost big bucks because of the failure of companies like AIG would not be bailed out. However, the Washington Post reports today that Senators and House members are pressuring President Bush to include aid for transit in his Treasury-financed GM and Chrysler package. But, unless the pressure’s increased, the administration isn’t going to do anything about it, which in some ways makes sense, for reasons we’ve discussed before.
  • Economic advisers to the Ontario Premier are suggesting that Canada could benefit from a large high-speed rail system centered around Toronto. The network’s more than 500-km of track would cost up to $20 billion to build and take years of construction time to be implemented, but it would make sense, especially if it were connected to the high-speed network that neighboring Quebec wants to see built.
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Detroit New York Toronto

Transit Expansions, Cuts, and Art

Detroit, which is suffering more than any other city from the economic crisis, is moving to develop an alternative to car-based commuting. Though the nation’s three automakers are all headquartered in the region, the area’s political and financial leaders buy the transit gospel, and recognize that an improved transit system would do a lot to improve the city’s struggling downtown.

Currently served by the Detroit Department of Transportation’s network of buses and the SMART suburban network, planners are currently considering building a streetcar or light rail line through the city’s core, on Woodward Avenue. This strip goes from the city’s center along the waterfront, past the two major league stadiums, in the midst of midtown (where the Amtrak station now is), and then further north. It is the center city’s definitive artery and it makes perfect sense to align a rail system along its path. This is especially true because the proposed Ann Arbor to Detroit commuter rail system would stop at the existing Amtrak station rather than downtown; a connection is necessary.

But two different groups, the public Department of Transportation and a private consortium consisting of some of the city’s largest non-auto companies, are proposing different plans. The public group envisions a 9.3 mile-long light rail line for $371 million, which would theoretically attract 22,000 daily riders. This would be paid for using a transit-area tax and federal dollars. Meanwhile, the private consortium (called Detroit Regional Mass Transit) envisions a 3.5 mile-long route that would only serve the downtown core of the city.

It’s been suggested that the two systems be merged, since they propose the same service for 3.5 miles of the route. Obviously you wouldn’t have two separate light rail systems on the same street. We’re a little skeptical of the city’s 22,000 daily rider estimate, simply because the city is so auto-based and the downtown, though once quite vibrant, has fallen onto harder times. Nonetheless, the construction of this route would go part of the way towards recuperating the loss the city faced when it told the federal government “No!” to $600 million worth of funds for mass transit Washington offered back in the 1970s.

In New York City, which is facing a huge real estate downturn, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is proposing massive service reductions in order to shore up its budget. The consequences of changes to be proposed to the Board on Thursday would be disastrous for the city, whose train network is already chronically overcrowded.

There is no good reason for the MTA to have to make these cuts in the middle of a recession. People need transit alternatives, and by increasing waiting times, limiting the number of available trains, reducing the number of routes, and delaying the renovation of stations, we’re going to simply see the transit system in a bigger hole than it’s in today. The federal government must work to bailout New York and other cities that are facing these huge cuts. It would be embarrassing to see New York’s Subway fall into the same disrepair it faced in the 1970s today, when we’re increasingly concerned about the climate crisis and when millions of people are facing decreasing revenues. As we said on this blog a few weeks ago, the first priority for transit proponents should be the shoring up of federal funds for older transit networks like New York’s. 

Meanwhile, in Toronto, which is on route to extending its Spadina subway line into York County (as well as simultaneously building a new network of streetcars and light rail lines), has hired two world famous architects to design its next stations. Will Alsop and Norman Foster will take on the design of some of the new stations along the extension. This is exciting news, because it means that the Toronto Transit Commission takes seriously the idea that subway stations should be interesting, rather than simply utilitarian, spaces. In a city where many stops “look like bathrooms,” this is a huge advancement in thinking.

But it also raises a question for transit agencies around the world: is transit meant to be an enhancement of the public space, or just a matter of increased mobility? If we consider mass transit to be an integral part of the urban public sphere, we should lean towards the former. We need transit that appeals to the eye as well as to the timetable. Toronto’s taking the right step in pushing for architecturally interesting stations.