Trains For America

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GUEST COLUMN: Canada-USA High Speed Possibilities

Logan and I are 30 years apart (sadly for me!) and we are both slammed by school work this semester. The Trains for America blog has been a sad casualty of that business and my own frustration with the toxic political climate that is doing so much harm to the country I love.

Since it’s been a while, I can say that Amtrak is in a bad state. It is unclear to me whether the president is the president or an interim, and the commitment (if any) to long distance trains seems vague. I may be misreading. I do know that the recent rumblings about the Sunset/Eagle schedule changes being discussed for April are, so far, nothing but wishful thinking and your typical railroad rumors.

While Logan and I have been neglectful, and we feel really bad about it, we do welcome guest columns. If you wish to contribute, the work must be attributed (not anonymous), free of libel and personal attacks, and hopefully bear some marks of journalistic evenhandedness.

Though I do not know Paul Langan of High Speed Rail Canada personally, I consider him a friend am I am delighted to submit this item for your discussion. I hope to offer more new material to TFA in the next months and perhaps offer a new look. Anyway, enjoy.

Canada-USA High Speed Possibilities – Part 1 Montreal-Boston

Paul Langan,  Founder High Speed Rail Canada http://highspeedrail.ca11/11/09

High Speed Rail (HSR) is coming to North America the question is where will it be implemented first. I would like to examine the cross border opportunities for HSR that have been put forward.

Four possible passenger rail corridors connecting Canada and the USA exist. They are; Vancouver BC to Seattle WA , Windsor ON to Detroit MI ,   Montreal QC – New York NY and Montreal QC-Boston MA.

All these cross border corridors share three significant fundamental challenges.

1. A multitude of political stakeholders – The more governments that are involved the process the slower the ability to get change to occur. This is especially true between Canada and the USA where dialogue and cooperation on passenger rail issues has been historically weak

2. The immigration and customs border crossing issue. Border Immigration officials in the USA and Canada must come to an agreement on an efficient and effective means of allowing people to cross between the two countries by rail. I witnessed first hand the elimination of the Toronto , ON to Chicago IL Amtrak passenger rail service in part by over zealous USA immigration officials delaying trains. In British Columbia the Canadian Border Services Agency has been a severe detriment to increasing passenger rail service between these two countries

3. A lack of a national Canadian vision on HSR – USA President Obama has made clear his vision for the revitalization of modern higher and high speed passenger rail service for the USA . In Canada , Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not stated any national plans relating to passenger rail renewal.

Over 110 years of passenger rail service ended on the Montreal-Boston corridor in 1967 when the past passenger rail service ceased between the two cities. That trip took eight and a half hours to complete. Modest new plans are for a restored service with five and a half hour trip time.

The Boston – Montreal Corridor was designated a high speed rail corridor in 2000 by the Federal Railroad Administration.  In 2003, a HSR study was completed for this 529km corridor. The full study is available to be read at the .

The study lays bare some of the additional challenges facing the implementation of HSR from Boston to Montreal. They are;

  1. Dealing with 4 different rail owners – Getting agreements from four railway companies to restore higher speed passenger rail service in this corridor will be challenging. An example of this problem is in shown in #2.
  2. Pan Am Railways – Privately owned railway who own track between Nashua-Concord Hew Hampshire have no interest in high speed rail along the line and have prevented the State of New Hampshire from applying for funding for HSR
  3. None of the current infrastructure currently meets the needs for higher speed rail.
  4. There are over 360 at grade road /rail crossings.
  5. North Boston Station does not have significant capacity to handle these trains.

It should be mentioned that there is also a small group of individuals that would like to see a Boston-Portland- Montreal higher speed passenger rail route along the former CN now St. Lawrence Atlantic Railway line.

Since that study ws released there has been some very positive renewed commitments to higher speed rail.

A “Vision for New England High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail”.

has been collectively developed by the State Departments of Transportations in Maine , New Hampshire , Vermont , Massachusetts , Rhode Island and Connecticut (the New England states).

The New England states are successfully working through the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) promoting the need for high speed passenger rail service renewal.

Although there are very real challenges to restoring higher speed passenger rail service to this corridor, the Phase One HSR study has been done. The study concluded that there were no fatal barriers from the implementation of HSR in this corridor.

The recent New England states vision for renewed passenger rail service and a recent  meeting in Boston between  Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to promote HSR are promising signs.


Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

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November 2009