[Point de vue de Rodolphe Husny] The train is late

The author is a former conservative strategist. He was a political adviser in the Harper government as well as in the opposition.

The mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand, hit the headlines by pleading for a high-speed train (TGV) in the “Quebec-Toronto” corridor. This has revived the debate between TGV and high frequency train (TGF).

In 2015, in an editorial, Bernard Descôteaux, then director of To have to, reminded us that in 1975, Mayor Jean Drapeau also wanted a high-speed train, following the construction of Mirabel airport. We know what happened next: there were no trains, and Mirabel was closed to passengers in 2004.

All prime ministers, from Pierre Elliott Trudeau to Stephen Harper, have rejected the idea of ​​a TGV, on the strength of five studies commissioned by their various governments. Justin Trudeau also promised it in 2012 during the Liberal leadership race, but once in power he instead continued the analysis of the TGF launched by the Harper government. Making this type of project profitable, or at least covering our costs, was deemed impossible in the Canadian context.

Let’s first decide on one thing: the choice between TGV or TGF is a false debate launched by Mayor Marchand. Here we are comparing apples with oranges. In an ideal world, we would have a service that would combine the two principles — a fast train, with many departures, and a high-frequency train, which stops in many places — to attract the greatest number of passengers. with a time less than the journey made by car or plane. The example of the Milan-Rome route, which relies on forty TGVs and fifty TGFs, is interesting.

We have to ask ourselves what our objective is. Can we (and do we want to) replace air travel with the train or tackle car travel? Do we want to do so on the basis of economic or ecological arguments? If it’s the second scenario that wins, it becomes downright a societal choice.

If we are ready to wait 25 years and pay at least 100 billion dollars, we can have a TGV. It will never be profitable, and ticket prices will not follow economic logic. They will therefore have to be heavily subsidized, because the price of the plane will remain more attractive.

We can also invest ten billion, in the next five years, and have a TGF. In fact, we already have trains that could go fast, but I skip steps.

Two hundred kilometers. It is the radius or distance of travel that makes a person wonder whether to take the car or the train. His decision will depend on the frequency of the train, because the journey time is about the same for both means of transport, in theory, at least. You can get in your car whenever you want. For the train, you need a flexible schedule. If there are not enough departures and it does not suit their schedule, the person will take their car.

Three million against sixty million. The first figure represents the air passenger market between Montreal and Toronto. If we want the train to compete with the plane between Montreal and Toronto, we will have to invest billions for three million passengers. If we attack the offer of transport by train for journeys of 200 km, we rather compete with the car, with a potential market of 60 million journeys replaced. It is an important calculation.

Priority to freight trains

Comparisons with Europe must be put into context, because there is a fundamental difference, and it is historic. In Canada, the railway was built to unify the country. It is the result of a political gesture made in the wake of the creation of our federation. There is therefore a national component to the fact of connecting the country on the basis of its commercial and industrial exchanges, to transport resources there.

Let’s say it even more clearly: the railway was therefore built here for the transport of goods in priority. In Europe, it is the opposite, the railway has as its primary objective the transport of passengers, and the latter therefore has priority.

Prior to the privatization of Canadian National (CN), Via Rail and CN were both Crown corporations. They had an interest in collaborating because they shared the same boss, the federal government. They therefore settled their differences in the federal minister’s office, where the network between freight and passenger trains was coordinated.

This is no longer the case since the privatization of CN in the 1990s. On this now private network, a Via Rail passenger train cannot go at full speed, because it must give priority to freight trains and even s stop, if necessary. This explains the longer journey times.

CN trains are now also longer (up to 5 km) and heavier, which makes them even slower. Via Rail trains are therefore stopped longer and there is more congestion, which increases travel time for passenger trains.

Current trains could go faster if we had the infrastructure that would allow them to be used to their maximum capacity. The natural solution would therefore be to have lines reserved for passenger trains, either by building new ones or by building additional tracks on certain sections. Easy ?

This year, in July, we will mark the tenth anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy. It was decided that a bypass line of 12 km will be built there. A decade later, we still do not agree on the route. Expropriations, negotiations, the “not in my backyard” phenomenon, we can’t even build 12 km of railway here. Imagine on a whole network!

A TGV would require a new route, reserved, with concrete, a lot of concrete, both to put under the rails, instead of the wood currently, and for the construction of hundreds of viaducts and bridges. There would also be safety barriers to provide, straight lines, etc. It’s not the train itself that’s expensive — its cost is estimated at 5% of the project — it’s the infrastructure needed to run it.

The problem with the train in Canada is somewhat the same as with the electric car today. We want to use it, but we have to stop too often to recharge it and it takes longer. For the electric car, part of the solution lies in the multiplication of terminals. With the train, it is necessary to provide a whole infrastructure, to multiply the stops so that it is attractive and to succeed in going faster than the automobile. To have TGVs, therefore, you also need TGFs.

To see in video

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