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Oct 30, 2009

Why Just Focus on Quebec-Windsor When Talking About High Speed Rail?

October 30, 2009

Chris Kennedy comments on transportation planning in Canada.

It’s rare that an opportunity presents itself to simultaneously tackle some of our country’s biggest challenges: pollution and climate change, slow economic growth, the need for more private-sector-driven innovation and the requirement to deliver people quickly and efficiently to and from home, work and play.

But that opportunity is here. By investing in 21st century high-speed rail networks – not only connecting cities like Toronto-Montreal, Quebec-Windsor or Edmonton-Calgary, but also within high-population regions like Southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe – the federal government could significantly reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. High-speed rail would also promote smart growth in urban areas, strengthen regional and provincial economies, and boost Canada’s overall competitiveness.

The construction of high-speed rail systems is a green choice. Today, fossil fuels account for 85 per cent of Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next decade, Ontario’s population is expected to grow by 25 per cent, from 12 million to 15 million, and gasoline consumption will skyrocket. By 2021, the province will emit eight more megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year from gasoline use alone.

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High-speed rail offers a number of green advantages over other forms of transportation. Railroads have lower impact on wetlands, water resources, wildlife and farmlands than sprawling airports or highways that wind through a region like concrete arteries. A trip by train requires far less energy than the same trip by air or car. High-speed trains also create less noise pollution.

Curbing automobile reliance and promoting public transit in Ontario would go a long way towards helping Canada meet its climate change goals. These include the most recent targets set by Environment Canada for meeting the Kyoto Protocol: reducing greenhouse gases by 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020, and by 60 to 70 per cent by 2050. An investment in high-speed rail would also fit well with our country’s commitment to match the tougher air pollution standards set by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency.

Building a high-speed rail network is not only a greener choice – it is a wise investment in economic productivity and social development.

The time lost in stop-and-go traffic twice a day significantly reduces cities’ productivity. Congestion currently costs the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area $2.7-billion a year. Without improvements in transportation infrastructure, population growth will only make the situation worse, holding back the province’s potential strength as an economic engine for the country.

From a social perspective, high-speed rail can increase leisure, family and community time for currently harried commuters. The drive from Waterloo to Toronto, for example, takes at least one hour and 45 minutes during morning rush hour. At an average speed of 200 km/h, a train could cut the trip to 38 minutes. Even if we allot extra time for in-between stops, an average speed of 150 km/h would still only require 50 minutes, less than half the time needed for driving. The savings in time would no doubt lure people out of their cars, especially if the train service is reliable and convenient.

Rail networks also integrate easily with other public transit systems. Train stations can easily be turned into transportation hubs, with connections to local buses, light rail, and other forms of regional transportation. High-speed rail, in partnership with local transit systems, could support high-density growth and connectivity for cities, and increase the competitiveness of the region.

While trip flows between major urban centres in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area are expected to increase by 20 per cent over the next decade, even current daily flows justify improvements to infrastructure. Some 400,000 people travel between Toronto and York Region every day and about 700,000 commute between Toronto and Peel Region. Even between smaller hubs, 115,000 people travel between Hamilton and Halton Region daily, and 49,000 between Waterloo and Guelph.

In short, high-speed rail is one of the most promising forms of public transportation.

The cost of constructing four main high-speed rail segments through the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area, namely Niagara Falls-Peterborough, Toronto-Orillia, Mississauga-Guelph-Waterloo, and Waterloo-Hamilton, is estimated to be between $4- and $20-billion, based on studies from outside Ontario. The investment would pay off not only by easing congestion and thereby improving economic productivity, but also by establishing a creative urban region that exemplifies innovation and forward thinking, which will attract high levels of investments from the private sector.

The Canadian government has already demonstrated a commitment to strategic infrastructure investment. In 2008, it targeted $500-million for public transit capital. More recently, the federal infrastructure stimulus package made significant investments in greener and more modern infrastructure. Now is the time for a more serious long-term investment.

History shows us that smart investments in infrastructure set the stage for significant economic growth, and can have long-term and far-reaching effects on how Canadians live. The construction of railroads in the 19th century spurred major growth in a wide range of industries and commercial activities. The introduction of subways bolstered retail, entertainment and tourism within cities and allowed people to travel from inner suburbs to work. Today, the need for expansion in transportation infrastructure presents Canada with another opportunity to shape our future.

A high-speed rail system in the Golden Horseshoe area would provide safer and healthier movement of people, boost the level of connectivity between major urban centres, and contribute to a greener and more prosperous region. It can complement the high speed rail that connects cities like Montreal and Toronto. The new type of urban region created by such a network has the potential to revolutionize Ontario’s role within the continental and global economic systems. The time has come for high-speed rail to be one of the key infrastructure projects of Canada’s next century.

For more information, please see the report for the Martin Prosperity Institute, Infrastructure and the Economy: Future Directions for Ontario.


Chris Kennedy

Release Date

June 17, 2013