Showcase could attract U.S. billions

HynesB88X146.JPGBy James G. Hynes
Serie103-124X28R.jpgThe Obama administration announced in April its intention to invest US$13 billion in high-speed rail (HSR) projects. These funds are just the first step towards the ultimate goal: a network of HSR services threading through the country’s most populous regions, linking chains of major cities.
In doing this, the Americans are following the lead of just about every other industrialized country in the world. Worldwide, governments are deciding that wider highways and bigger airports are not the solution to their Neil%20Pulling98X32R.jpgcongested and polluted transportation corridors. Instead, reliable, fuel-efficient HSR services in Europe and Southeast Asia are dramatically easing both road and air traffic congestion, to the great benefit of regional economies and their environments.
Quite a few of these HSR systems were built by Bombardier, now a world leader in the field. Yet there is not a single mile of genuine HSR service at work in Canada today. This nation was literally made possible by a railway, and still relies on rails as an economic backbone. But Canada is now a railroading laggard, while a Thrash%20Merchant92X36R.jpgCanadian company has been busy building HSR systems in Europe, Asia and even, in a rather compromised form, the U.S.A.
The American Acela system can’t provide true HSR performance (200 kph plus), and many of the new services planned by the Obama administration will also fall short of that velocity threshold. So the U.S. isn’t quite embracing HSR, and the door remains open for Canada to claim that distinction in North America with a state-of-the-art system. It isn’t as if we would have to figure out how to do it. The technological and engineering capabilities are Powell90X39R.jpgalready at hand, including various options.
Japan’s Shinkansen and France’s TGV, like most HSR trains, are driven by electric power drawn from overhead wires, which add considerably to the cost of building the lines. Given Quebec’s surplus of hydro power, this would probably be the best way to power HSR trains there. But given Ontario’s costly nuclear and polluting thermal power sources, Bombardier has an option: a “Jet Train” that efficiently generates its own juice with a 5,000-horsepower turbine engine. This may also be the best option for some of the Peggey80X54R.jpgU.S. lines through power-limited regions.
If we were to make the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor a showcase of our world-class HSR technology, we just might get a piece of the billions the U.S. is beginning to pour into fast trains. That would be bold, creative and opportunistic, attributes that are in short supply in our seats of government today. While a Canadian company spreads the benefits of HSR around the world, travellers among Canada's largest cities continue to sit in traffic Velaro70X49R.jpgjams on the way to the airport. In what was once a land of daring pioneers, who built for the future and got us to today, apparently we're stalled.
[Ed Note: Click on links below for previous articles by Jim Hynes on high speed rail.]
HSR hostage to hydrocarbon legacy
Dare to create on a grand scale

Biting the bullet builds mega-economies

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