Today, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced in London a new project to bring high-speed rail to the province. Canada is notably the only G7 nation that does not have high-speed rail (although the United States basically lacks high-speed rail outside Amtrak’s northeast corridor). The death and life of great Canadian passenger rail is roughly mirrored in the United States– VIA started services in the late 70’s compared to Amtrak in the early 70’s, and Amtrak’s freight analogue Conrail was dissolved, or re-privatized, in 1999, four years after Canadian National was privatized and all of its trackage was thereby taken out of public control.
Freight rail historically hasn’t played nicely with passenger rail because it typically operates in duopolistic markets, for example, BNSF versus Union Pacific, Canadian National versus Canadian Pacific, or Norfolk Southern versus CSX, and because private, for-profit freight rail is driven by shareholder value while nationalized passenger rail service is driven by, well, however little funding its government wants to give it. VIA Rail in Canada is conceiving of the Quebec City to Windsor corridor as a lower-density version of Boston to DC in the United States and is investing a lot of money to improve that route and take over trackage, similar to what Amtrak did in the NEC for Acela service.
The Ontario Liberals have struggled to honour their commitments to high-speed rail, so this announcement of an invariably lengthy, expensive environmental study is a step forward. So, in 14 years, we’ll have nice things, maybe a complete route from Chicago to Montreal, even. Or Boston to Montreal. The various high-speed rail discussions around North America are at this point basically just discussions, in the austerity era when no one wants to pony up the dollars to build the infrastructure (high-speed rail requires dedicated, separated grade trackage, and, invariably, replacement of ties and tracks).
High-speed rail might get us there faster, but couldn’t we figure out a way to get it here faster? I need more opportunities to take advantage of the Torontonian economy while the US Dollar is still strong!