Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Canadian corridors

The Montreal Gazette makes another entry in the ever expanding inquiry about why ground transportation in North America is relegated to the dark ages. Justin Bur is vice-president east of Transport 2000 Canada and he wrong this important essay.

The premiers of Ontario and Quebec have announced a feasibility study for high-speed rail in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, including the key Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto triangle. It is good news indeed that better
intercity transportation is back on the political agenda. But it is hardly a new idea. At least seven studies have been conducted on the subject in the past quarter century, each one shelved for two main reasons: the high cost of the project, and doubts that the corridor has the population to justify such a service. Are these really valid objections?

Over the period that high-speed rail has been rejected as “too expensive”, many billions of dollars of public and private money have been lavished on airport expansion and highway development. The

Toronto Pearson airport expansion alone would cover the costs of a high-speed line between Toronto and Montreal. What do we have to show for this investment? A passenger transport system entirely based on
petroleum consumption, with little hope of using alternative energies in the medium term. The highest possible emissions of smog and greenhouse gases. Frequent congestion in airports and on highways.

High vulnerability to adverse weather conditions. No other country in the industrialized world does quite so badly, except perhaps the United States. The question is not whether high-speed rail is too expensive, but rather how we can afford to delay it any longer.

Doubts about the population of the Quebec-Windsor corridor are equally misplaced. The fact that we have large planes flying half-hourly each way between Toronto and Montreal, in addition to VIA Rail’s most heavily travelled routes and the busiest highways in Canada, demonstrates the demand for travel in this part of Canada. By international standards, the population numbers and distances between the cities are well suited for successful fast trains. What the population is not sufficient for, however, is building high-speed rail while also retaining all the air traffic. Airlines and politicians are legitimately worried about the risk of destabilizing the fragile Canadian air transport system. The way out of this problem is not for lobbyists to block high-speed rail, but rather for airlines to negotiate favorable terms for using high-speed trains to transport passengers bearing airline tickets. This is common practice in Western Europe and of benefit to traveller and airline alike.

The Record in Hamilton has a similar report on the same regional problem.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Travel Woes

Iowa infrastructure

Now that all the aspiring political leaders are gone, the Hawkeye State can get back to normal. The Des Moines Register has a lengthy item on infrastructure, including passenger rail.

And what about rail?

“We have only 50 percent of the rail structures we built 50 years ago,” Hart said.

With gasoline at $3 a gallon and headed to $4, it’s time to rethink how we transport people, he said.

In the Quad Cities, Hart was involved in efforts to establish rail service to Chicago.

Within two years, he said, Illinois intends to extend passenger routes from Chicago to Dubuque and to the Quad Cities.

The Illinois planners figure they can move 110,000 people a year on the Chicago-Quad City route with one-way fares as low as $19, Hart said.

“To make that route really viable, to take that from 110,000 to 250,000 passengers, you need to move that route to Iowa City, Des Moines and ultimately Council Bluffs, maybe Lincoln,” he said.

“You could get on a train in Des Moines at midnight and be in Chicago by 7 in the morning.”

But for that to happen, planning needs to begin soon, including where to place depots in Des Moines, Iowa City and Council Bluffs, Tramontina said.

Local leaders need to start thinking about where to place those depots, Tramontina said.

Should they be downtown, on the edge of town, or someplace in between?

How will the depots connect with other parts of the cities? With students at the University of Iowa? With shopping malls, housing and business parks in the Des Moines area?

So, who would ride a train overnight from Des Moines to Chicago if they had an option? You might do it, but that is typically a day time trip and the train picks up all the local stations in daylight.

Don’t get me wrong. Overnight trains are perfect for many trips, but this is a corridor that needs many frequencies to build the kind of patronage necessary to justify the service.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

Virginia highway hoopla

You will never believe this one.

OK, you will. The Virginia Department of Transportation is brewing up a bad batch of asphalt. The ramirications are serious. The News-Virginian has an extensive report.

On the massive, 148-mile New Jersey Turnpike, it can get as wide as 14 lanes on the toll road, with separate, dedicated lanes for trucks going in both directions.

Tolls there, which average $1.21 per trip, according to New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, are set for a dramatic rise under his toll hike proposal, announced last week, to help pay for improvements to the turnpike’s infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation has a controversial proposal on the table – the I-81 Corridor Improvement Study – that calls for widening the 325-mile stretch of Interstate 81 – which cuts through Augusta County – to four lanes going both north and south. It also has called for tolls to be established to help pay for the widening. Federal funds would also be used to pay for the I-81 work.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

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January 2008