Please tell me, does anybody know?/ Where does the big train go?


Am I happy that Dean Del Mastro wants high-speed rail for the Montreal-Toronto corridor (with a thoughtful little detour to Ottawa?) Absolutely. Am I really, really surprised because all along, I took Del Mastro for a gallumphing jamook without a policy bone in his body? Oh yeah, you bet. Words cannot express. So how to square the proposal and its source? Two ways, it seems to me:

  • Dean Del Mastro has depths to him that none of us could have suspected. Mea culpa, Dean!
  • (or) he is operating on remote control from the PMO. He has become a human trial balloon. Float, Dean, float!
  • (or) It’s a profoundly dumb idea, and only Dean and I could ever love it. (I had to anticipate that one, because you have to know it’s coming in the comments below.)

(Incidentally, here’s your soundtrack for this post. Click on the little speaker icons and you’ll get some rail-appropriate tunage.)

For arguments in favour of high-speed rail, read my definitive opus on the subject, written from the rolling French countryside. I should note that when that column ran, readers responded with the sound of crickets chirping, which is what I usually get when I turn all policy-wonk. But I did get a thoughtful email from a Senior Figure in the Harper crew, playfully contesting some of my assertions (hammering a TGV line through the Rockies: uh, not gonna happen) but not dismissing the idea outright. Based on this admittedly reed-thin shred of evidence, I now suspect Del Mastro’s little sortie did not catch a lot of people in Langevin by surprise. Indeed, here was a Shadowy Eminence in that very edifice yesterday, briefing reporters on the need for jumbo infrastructure outlays in the (oddly Martinesquely-dubbed) Most Important Budget Ever.

A few thoughts, then.

  • None of this is a guarantee that anything will happen on the high-speed-rail front. I have very high regard for somewhere between one and three of these men, but I think it’s safe to say that any project whose main public champions are Dean Del Mastro, Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest is not, yet, precisely a juggernaut.
  • high-speed rail has its virtues (see the definitive opus, op. cit.), but it’s a terrible way to provide “fiscal stimulus” to salve a recession. I hope this is obvious. The planning, approval, and procurement pipeline would be very long indeed, probably more than a decade, so if anyone ever does try to sell such a project as some kind of stimulus, please laugh and throw things. If high-speed rail is defensible, it’s as an incrementally greener way to move human traffic through our densest population corridor, as a productivity boost, but not as a Response to the Crisis.
  • Incidentally, if you want a nifty stimulus, all you tax cut/spending program people should look for some kind of truce. Here’s one. If the problem with tax cuts is that there is no guarantee they’ll be spent, and the problem with spending is that it procures no cost-of-living benefit on ordinary consumers, then why not find a guaranteed-spending program that reduces consumers’ bills? Send armies of work crews into homes to install the sort of energy-saving features we all know are available but that few of us have bothered to install. You get an immediate pop in skilled-labour employment. And consumers benefit with lower heating bills, indefinitely. That wasn’t so hard.

So to sum up: High-speed rail cannot help Canada through the current economic unpleasantness. But I believe longstanding arguments in its favour still hold. It is entirely possible that Del Mastro has become a bold free thinker. With best wishes to him for the new year, I hope he hasn’t.


Please tell me, does anybody know?/ Where does the big train go?

  1. I take it jokes about Deanie’s hot-air propensities aiding his trial-balloon-floating go without saying…

  2. Where does the big train go? Apparently “cross country” (ie. through Peterborough) instead of serving the population centres along the lakefront. This is clearly Dean pleading for pork more than pushing something sane.

    That being said, I don’t care who champions the project. We need high-speed rail now… going along the existing lakefront corridor, of course.

  3. Now Paul, you obviously just want this so you can pop from .. uhh “downtown” (east-end) Ottawa to actual Downtown Montreal in 45 minutes to see some concert or another.

    I kid! I think it is a great idea. I ALSO want to get to Montreal or TO really fast without having to enter the world of the airport.

  4. Paul

    Do you know if Harper has let his MPs off the leash? Its been my impression for the past couple of months that more Cons have been appearing in the msm and they all haven’t been parroting the party line.

    I am against government spending tens of billions for TGV service but if they have to, I think it would be more economically useful if they built it specifically to move freight, not people. I think it would attract a lot of foreign companies to Canada that are looking to North American market. Especially if they could end the line in Detroit and not this side of the border.

    My nomination for train soundtrack is Pat Metheny – Last Train Home.

    • I may be wrong, but since freight is significantly heavier than people, I am under the impression that you cannot have high speed freight trains.

    • jwl, as I posted on Wherry’s blog, could you give us specific examples of freight that would make sense to be shipped on high speed rail?

      Just wanted to see if you have thought this through at all.

      • I haven’t commissioned anyone to do cost analyst if that’s what you are asking. However, I do know about the auto industry and moving auto parts between US/Canada is a massive headache for automakers that would be a lot easier if they could move things on a regular scheduled train service. I also drive on highway 401 a lot and significant amount of traffic is trucks moving goods between US/Canada. Lots of firms operate just-in-time delivery now and moving things on train would help tremendously, i think, because they would be much more efficient.

        TGV service could be big selling point for foreign firms looking to break into North American market or expand their already existing operations.

        Doesn’t VIA lose money every year and taxpayers end up subsidizing it? Why do we need to build an even more expensive service that few people will use.

        • jwl… you may want to look into things a bit more.

          VIA makes a profit on it’s corridor runs. It’s not enough to offset the HUGE losses on the wilderness runs it does (like Sudbury-White River and Winnipeg-Churchill amongst others). If the government allowed VIA to cut the unprofitable runs, they’d do quite well.

          A high-speed train would be *amazingly* successful. It would decimate Air Canada, but it would, without a doubt, be a hit.

          • The economics of freight do not require it to be shipped high-speed whereas the economics of passenger travel do…at least, for such short distances.

          • So we spend tens of billions on railway that few people use, increase our subsidies to VIA to cover cost of losing the only line where it makes money and Air Canada, WestJet and Porter can all lose significant amount of passengers/money. What’s not to like?

          • JWL – I’m with you – I think this is a waste of taxpayer money – if an enterprising enterprise wants to pay for this, they should go ahead.

          • One would think VIA would run the line and take the profit.

          • Of course this is a waste of taxpayer money. The Big 3 auto makers, the national highway system, Bombardier and the Davie shipyards should pay for high-speed rail out of their jaw-droppingly huge public subsidies, if they think it’s a great idea.

            Oh wait. You did know that the highways are subsidized by two levels of government — to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year?

          • Good grief. Even Adam Smith argued that the government must pick up the tab for projects that will benefit the society but would not be profitable enough for private enterprise. He used general education as a particular example. High Speed rail is another. Would it be profitable? Sure, but when most companies are thinking of the next quarter and a long-term plan is generally 2-5 years, a project like this, which would probably take a decade or so to come to fruition, is not something that is profitable enough for private enterprise (though you can bet they’ll all be lining up to get in on it after the taxpayer has paid for most of the ground work)

            Wells is dead on. It’s something that probably should be done to benefit the region and the country, but it’s no stimulus package.

          • Yes Paul I know highways are subsidized – they also transport millions of people PER DAY.

            As would investing in say, a proper subway system in Toronto.

        • Border problems for freight will not be solved with a high speed train.

          In addition, with many auto assembly plants using just in time inventory control (ie you notify your supplier when you need the parts and the inventory arrives when needed as opposed to storing it on site) the logistics would be impossible with high speed freight trains (think of loading/unloading and frequency of trains req’d) etc. etc.

          In terms of reducing congestion, yes, perhaps using more piggyback (train/truck) conventional train shipping would make sense along heavily travelled corridors over greater distances- but that is a different animal than high speed train travel .

      • very very ripe bananas? the latest printed copies of CON gov’t dictates and policy, prone to change and be updated/backtracked before the next Leafs’ loss?

  5. I love the idea, but…

    I suspect (although I haven’t looked it up) that the Montreal-Toronto flight corridor is the busiest and most lucrative of Air Canada’s national trajectories (int’l flights aside). AC would despise a quick and easy alternative to traveling between TO and MTL, and would lobby hard against it.

    The air travel industry (and probably the automakers to a lesser extent) won’t let this happen without a fight.

    • Ooooh, that sounds satisfying. Screwing Air Canada is public policy beacon #1.

  6. I think old Deano is hoping for that Peterborough run – which would be absolutely a waste of money. I live in the next riding to his. How about a GO extension for Peterborough to hook up at Oshawa/Whitby. There aren’t that many people from Peterborough.

    The speed train idea is a good one. My husband commutes on VIA and it’s getting busier and busier all the time.

  7. There has also been a far more modest (read: pointless) proposal known as “ViaFAST” floating around for a couple of years: $3-4 Billion to basically buy the same old diesel trains, running on many of the same old tracks still (shared with freight), somehow at a slightly higher average speed (but any more reliable? probably not!). If anything new happens in Federal Trains watch for something more like this, rather than a real (really cool) TGV-style high speed rail. But really I expect nothing more than extensions of the same studies that the feds have commissioned several times over the past ten years, and Canada’s public institutions, like mass transportation, will continue to fall further behind the rest of the world.

  8. This is going to be like every other CPC spending project. They will announce it, reannounce it, reannounce it again, and then wait for the next election so they can announce the project yet again.

    Expect the shovels to break ground in 2014 when the Liberals get their next majority.

  9. I would rather the gov invest on getting people around in the nation’s major cities – a much more practical use of the billions that would benefit a lot more people. And from a stimulus perspective, much more ready to go.

  10. I worry that because Harper doesn’t like bold, big ideas that he will just propose boring, do-nothing measures that will have minimal impact in the long run but be enough to pass a budget.

    I think Canada could use a shot of some big-ideas like a high speed-rail system or a full twinning of the trans-Canada like Chretien tried to do in 2001/2.

    • A full twinning of the trans-Canada just *isn’t needed* in many places.

      High-speed rail would be an instant hit. It’s certainly not a stimulus measure, natch.

      • No full twinning of the TC highway isn’t needed in many places. But it would help in many places right across the country.

        High speed rail would NOT be an instant hit in Western Canada, except perhaps for a north-south run between Calgary, Edmonton, and Fort McMurray. Please leave us out of your “national vision” that has zero benefit to us. And please don’t ask us to pay for it.

        This project should be funded by Ontario/Quebec governments. What benefit is there to Western Canada? Our cost of transit will go up due to airlines having reduced profits from this corridor. Our cost of shipping will not go down. Our taxes will likely go up to pay for this.

        • No province is an island. Wait. Scratch that. No province exists in a vacuum. The resource-rich regions need Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver to finance the exploitation of their resources, and the Big Three cities derive incredible wealth from the regions. Improvements in the Toronto-Montreal corridor will benefit all of Canada.

          Besides, easily 10 million Canadians live between Toronto and Montreal (with many, many more to come). How many people live anywhere near the untwinned portions of the Transcanada Highway? The highway may check more federal boxes, but high speed rail would benefit many more people.

          Don’t forget: Ontario is now Harper’s last best hope. Let the vote-buying begin!

        • Wow, that’s shortsighted.

          First off, I *do* think there should be high-speed rail between Edmonton and Calgary, and have said so.

          The Federal Government spends boatloads of money on the national parks system in Alberta. But those national parks are not accessible to Ontarians and Quebeckers without taking a flight or a really, really long drive.

          The national parks in Alberta should be funded by the Alberta government. What benefit is there to Central Canada? Our taxes go up when they need to put wildlife management programs in place.

          Please leave us out of your “national vision” that has zero benefit to us. And please don’t ask us to pay for it.

          • You would have thought that with all that oil revenue and open countryside, the Alberta government could have built an Edmonton – Calgary high speed line many times over on its own. But I just don’t think that the demand for this route would make it worth the expenditure.

  11. Shorter John Baird: “We’re all Keynesians now.”

    Is this the kind of “stimulus” you have in mind?


    The people doing the work are private-sector contractors chosen by the homeowner & subsidized by gov’t, which has the result of both increased private-sector employment & government subsidy. Trouble is, there’s still a shortage of these skilled workers, due partly to, you know, uncle-Jean era post-secondary funding cutbacks which the CPC hasn’t exactly done anything to address, possibly due to the incessant need to campaign uncle Steve just talked about. While these things do increase non-Mcjob type employment, they’d only provide an immediate stimulus if there was a giant supply of unemployed tradespeople. They’re more effective in changing consumer behaviour.

    I’m in favour of a high-speed rail link. They’re pretty much guaranteed money-makers in the long run, but the private sector doesn’t look at expensive projects that may take ten or twenty years to start making money as a good investment. No current decision-makers will get a bonus from them. That’s why these things are never financed by the private sector.

    I think VIA had problems because it serviced large areas of the country and was competing against air travel when fuel costs were relatively low.

    • VIA still has problems because it is forced to provide service by the federal government on the following unprofitable lines, and the subsidy to do so hasn’t increased with inflation:

      The Abitibi (Montreal -> Senneterre, year round)
      The Saguenay (Montreal -> Jonquiere, year round)
      The Lake Superior (Sudbury -> White River, year round)
      The Hudson Bay (Winnipeg -> Churchill, year round)
      The Skeena (Jasper -> Prince Rupert, off season)
      The Malahat (Victoria -> Courtenay, when running)
      The Canadian (Toronto -> Vancouver, off season)

      Get rid of those, and Via would do quite well and there would be no need for subsidies.

  12. I would agree that a full-blown high-speed train is not doable in time to address the current crisis, but there are things that can be done more quickly, like quadrupling critical track sections to make the existing service more reliable. Presumably the railways have plans on their books for these and have had so for a long time, just waiting for the money.

  13. Notice how I wrote “two ways” and then I listed three points? Because that’s what I’m about: Total Quality Punditry.

    • Always giving 150%. That’s what I like about you, Wells.

    • I knew your last point sounded familiar. Remember last time? Asbestos-laden Zonolite insulation!!


      Not that deliberate industrial misinformation was the government’s fault or anything, but lack of adequate product safety testing isn’t a Harper invention. Government’s reputation in subsidizing energy efficiency has always been a little UFFI — I mean, iffy. I suppose anything you subsidize now will be found to cause cancer in the future.

      Okay, enough obscure 70’s policy references. Funny that I was too young to remember the fashion disasters but I remember building code issues. Scary.

  14. Paul
    If Harper goes for the train project, using the stimulus as an excuse, will you call him on it and risk losing your precious train? Or do you reckon your influence to mean nothing?

    • I would certainly call him on it, and demonstrate once again that my influence, while not quite zero, is negligible.

    • It’s all in the phrasing.

      “Stephen Harper’s decision to run a high-speed train along the Quebec City – Windsor corridor is one of the finest public policy decisions made in years. While it may not provide the stimulus it promised, it will put transit in the corridor on a solid foundation which can only enhance the productivity of the country in the long run.

      Oh, and I like trains.”

  15. I’m schizophrenic on this.

    I hate government subsidies, but I really, really like trains. (Childhood obsession of mine.)

    • The Tiger likes trains
      The Tiger likes fast trains
      The Tiger likes trains that call out through the rain
      The Tiger likes trains
      The Tiger likes sad trains
      The Tiger likes trains that whisper your name

      • More or less, yes.

        Elementary school projects on the building of the CPR, etc.

        And I rather envied Lady Macdonald her ride on the cowcatcher of the PM’s official train…

  16. Send armies of work crews into homes to install the sort of energy-saving features we all know are available but that few of us have bothered to install. You get an immediate pop in skilled-labour employment.

    Sounds dangerously close to an NDP-style nationwide building retrofit program.

    • You say that like it’s a bad thing.

      • Well, bad and dangerous in the sense that if Stephen Harper adopts such a plan to create jobs, improve citizens’ quality of life, conserve energy and help the environment, then he risks failing in his mission to save us from our second-tier socialist selves.

  17. I *do* find it odd that even the staunchest conservative has no problem with various levels of Government funding roads and letting commercial operators use them for free, but they think all rail development should be funded by the operators of that rail.

    The Federal government also builds road bridges, airports, seaports and maintains canal systems. They do not attempt to recoup all their costs from the users of those systems. Why should rail be any different?

    There needs to be high-speed rail in the corridor, as well as between Edmonton and Calgary.

    I fear this is one of those cases where people look at an issue and if they don’t like it, need it or know someone who does, they assume it’s bad policy. The same thing happens when people start talking about tax cuts… where should the money come from? The lefty says “cut the military”. The righty says “cut everything but the military”.

    • I happen to think infrastructure is one of the few legitimate areas for governments to involve themselves in so I am not automatically against all government infrastructure spending. However, I am against this specific proposal because it’s a boondoggle and nothing else. If we didn’t already have train, car and air services connecting these three cities I would be all for a shiny new tgv system.

      • That’s just silly.

        Ottawa just received a tonne of cash for it’s airport expansion, as did Toronto.

        At one point in time there wasn’t an airport with commercial flights in Ottawa, but there were rails and roads. Why did they build an airport? They could have used the rail system and road system just fine.

        Why did the build an airport? Because it’s a *better* way to get around, and more flexible than the existing services. Why would they build a high-speed train? Because it’s a *better* way to get around, and more flexible than the existing services.

        • That is… why did the *Government* build an airport in Ottawa…

  18. I would love to see fast train service in the corridor. But if it’s anything like the public transit discussions in Ottawa of late (like extending the train, and now the strike), we’re in for a long frustrating time.

    • There’s something we all can agree on.

  19. I’ve said it before … why increase service to the location of Canada’s dying industrial economy. Start thinking diiferently because the post WWII period of industrial expansion around the seaway has come to an end. How about high speed between Detroit and Cleveland? There are a delusional few who somehow think Ontario has some kind of self-sustaining economy based on retail and head offices. They are not willing to face reality. The excitement in Canada is in the east and the west. Things change. Ontario’s smaller future is agricultural.

    • In fairness to Detroit, it isn’t dead. It’s just that everybody of means moved to the suburbs.

      The economic future of Canada is going to be more than a Detroit-esque flight from Central Canada. Toronto de-industrialized years ago and the oil will not last forever, just to name two confounding factors.

    • That’s great, de. You have yet to even try to substantiate your claim that Ontario’s economy is just going to up and vanish, especially healthy sectors here such as aerospace, food processing, finance, telecommunications technology, software development, etc.

      And yet, you seem to think that the East coast is the future because it has some oil reserves? Oil is not something to build a sustainable economy on…

      • Show your confidence in those sectors by buying shares now that they are undervalued. Buy some Nortel, why don’t you. Distribution networks were the advantage Ontario levered in the past. Energy is what should be levered now to create new, export generating, industry. And saying “finance” at this juncture, after Bay St. ops have purloined much of Canadians’ pensions … well it’s just too 2006 to be taken seriously.

        • De, yes the auto industry (and other manufacturers) are suffering but the Windsor to Quebec corridor contains almost 60% of Canada’s population. 60%! And it’s still growing. I know with everything being new new new and growing growing growing by leaps and bounds in the west makes it seem like W-to-Q area is only set to wither and die, but that is simply not the case. And if you really think “Bay St.” is dead for good and will never make a comeback, then you can kiss western and eastern oil development goodbye too. Get real.

          • What hubris, what a terrific sense of entitlement. As industry dries up in Ontario so will the need for energy. The markets are elsewhere, so then will be the capital to develop reserves. And, unltimately, one hopes, industry moves to the source of cheaper energy. You assume that things don’t change, that simply because Ontario was once the engine of the Canadian economy it must always be so. If such has to be the case then what are the reasons for the rest of the federation to remain? To prop up Ontario? If there is no prospect that, under the current arrangement, the east and the west can lead the country, what is the point of their remaining in Canada?

  20. There’s also the good point that the private sector can’t borrow at anything like the rate the federal government can, and thus a ‘good investment’ for government (at 5% cost of capital) could be a money-loser for the private sector (at 15% cost of capital).

    Now, let’s get one thing clear: a true high speed line between Toronto and Montreal would be a sure-fire money-maker from an operational perspective. The only question is whether it can generate a high enough operating profit to cover the cost of capital.

    • What’s the going rate of return on the 416? 417? 401?

  21. Forget all this business about trains, and lets all buy a nice new Suzuki.

    I know a guy here in Peterborough that sells them…he’ll even knock $500 off the price of that TrueCoat.

    • Five Hundred? I said I didn’t want any TrueCoat. You lied to me, Alex B. You’re a bald-faced liar. A… F-ing liar!

      Where’s my goddam chequebook? Let’s get this over with.

  22. Paul your suggestion about sending work crews to every home to install energy saving devices is a good one and reminds me. Whatever happened to the Ontario initiative to install “smart meters” in every house? It seems to have vanished.

    • On the contrary: it’s nearly complete. I think the deadline is 2010. My parents’ home already has the smart meter, but I don’t think they’ve been asked whether they want to try Time of Use pricing yet.

  23. Anybody who has ever been on the Eurostar or one of the more modern TGV trains in France will be totally in love with this idea, no matter what the economic arguments are. It is such a joy to be able to go to a train station in a city centre, jump on the high speed train and land at the other end, again in a city centre, without the hassle, discomfort and (very often) delays of flying.

    I am in favour of Toronto – Montreal, then Toronto – New York City. I don’t know whose idea it is and I really don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, they can build a station for the line across the road from Del Mastro’s house if that what it takes to get this built.

    • I can just imagine that scenario:

      Mrs. Del Mastro: “Dean, Instead of driving, why don’t you take the train into Ottawa?”
      Dean: “Aw, do I have to? The station’s aaaalll the way across the road!”

  24. Congratulations, Paul, you might just get your pretty terrorist targ– I mean, pretty choo-choo, and not have to pay fair price for the ride, because taxpayers from coast-to-coast-to-coast will be coerced into providing it for you. But, then, if all of us comrades will be chipping in to build cars nobody wants, and propping up loans neither borrower-nor-lender should have allowed to be, and retrofit my windows when I should bloody well be doing this myself, pass the hammer-and-sickle, let’s all chip in for a rail line nobody needs.

    Scott M, this staunch(est?) conservative HAS been calling for tolls on intercity highways, bridges, canal locks, etc. Gas taxes are the current proxy for tolls on roads, but more should be done. Airports have finally put in departure fees to travellers and gate fees to airlines for a better sense of cost recovery, but I will leave to more informed folks how close these fees have come to “cost recovery.”

    So, alas, more taxes from private enterprise (Porter, WestJet, Greyhound, the auto industry and car-rental firms, and — with its caveat-filled history — Air Canada) will now be directly funding its crown corporation competition. Not, mind, that this country is without precedent in this sorry arena.

    Don’t look behind the curtain, usefully hiding the cost overruns, the inevitable corruption inherent in the bidding process, the public sector unions overpricing themselves because they can, the political dog-and-pony shows about the appointment of president and board of directors, the inevitable local and regional whining about rural taxpayers not getting the whistlestop(s), and any number of other episodes of numbskullery that only governments can reliably provide. Enjoy the underpriced ride.

    It is possible for more than two people to love “a profoundly dumb idea.” All Aboard!!!

    This was the best that a quick effort could provide, Paul. I hope I did not disappoint.

    • C’mon, MYL, where’s your entrepreneurial spirit?

      • Who needs one of those? If I suck enough at what I do, maybe the government will cut me a cheque. And I’ll settle for half a billion. Pretty cheap given the current marketplace of incompetence, I’d say.

        • Speaking of “sucking at what you do” and bailouts, did you see that Larry Flynt (Hustler) and Joe Francis (Girls Gone Wild) have asked for a $5 billion bailout ? I think they have at least as good an argument for public funds as the car industry, at least they produce something that people seem to like.

          • May I red-facedly clarify that in no way did I intend to use the word “suck” in the literal sense suggested by Mulletaur (So some things will still be done for free? — ed.). Is it getting hot in here?

    • So are you advocating a user-pay-full-cost system on everything? That’s certainly hardline… does that mean, say, the Mountain National Parks system should be run solely on user fees?

      • If the government decides to own land for nature preservation because it is in the national interest, the taxpayers are on the hook for that component of a national parks system. If I want to camp there, or take a guided nature tour, why should the taxpayers subsidize my vacation?

        Part of the problem with the “cost system on everything” under discussion is that there is already too much “everything” with which the government busies itself.

        Hardline, eh? I’ve certainly been called worse. But thanks for the question.

  25. I’m quite happy with the rail service as it is. The Montreal-Toronto service is a great ride, and takes only four hours if I remember correctly. I don’t see the need for high-speed.

  26. Paul.

    Is there a way to do this project through a private partnership?

    • Surely…I mean, the rolling stock will be purchased from a private contractor, at a minimum; the contractor might be interested in sharing some of the cost of the rails (and stations?). That’s off the top of my head, but surely…

      Why are you VS Macleans anyway, Chuck? We’re so nice.

  27. If they build it I will ride. Canada only has two real cities and a quick ride between the two is a great idea.

    • I hope that any corridor high-speed service is accompanied by an Edmonton-Calgary high-speed service.

      Ridership on the Edmonton-Calgary line would be lower, of course, but for a variety of reasons (better terrain, cheaper land, existing comprehensive feasability studies from the province) it would probably be a lot cheaper to build and might actually be a good sandbox for Canadians to get their eye in doing something that no North American has done before.

      Also, Canada has more than two real cities. Although I admit that a ride to our third city of Vancouver is difficult pending a way to dynamite a couple mountain chains into a flat grade.

  28. Just what is the problem that a high-speed train is supposed to solve? Suppose you want to go from Point A in Toronto to Point B in Montreal. Right now, the choice is

    a) Drive from point A to point B. Elapsed time: 5 hours or so.
    b) Drive to from point A to Pearson, take the plane to Trudeau and then get a taxi to Point B. Elapsed time – what? Five hours?

    Add to this:
    c) Drive from point A to Union Station, take the train to the Gare Centrale, and then take a taxi to Point B. Elapsed time – what? Five hours?

    Am I missing something?

    • Well, you could have earned at least a few “progressive” bonafides if you took the subway to Union and the Métro from Gare Centrale…

      But the biggest thing you missed was that all Canadians must contribute billions to slash those five hours by an hour or two, this being such a pressing national priority, and in keeping with the newly discovered constitutional power of “carrying our fat asses hither and yon at great speed.”

      Hope that helps.

    • It’s a long-term thing, Professor Gordon. Don’t worried your little head about it.

    • There are environmental and quality of life benefits to rail transport that you can’t get from planes and cars. I would guess that it helps with our Florida-esque spikiness too. As for speed, I can only speak to the situation in Toronto but I think the average time to reach Union Station, as the hub for GO and TTC, is less than the average time to reach Pearson.

      Plus fast trains are neat.

      • I dunno. Addressing the insufficiency of neat things doesn’t seem like a compelling use of public money. Especially when we can think of so many other ways that it could be spent.

        • You can never have too much neat ;)

          I propose a national stimulus package based on the Seussification of our built environment and the retrofitting of all mechanical devices with Rube Goldberg properties.

        • …or NOT SPENT, dagnabbit…

          • Les Canadiens. Nés pour un petit pain.

  29. On the contrary: it’s nearly complete. I think the deadline is 2010. My parents’ home already has the smart meter, but I don’t think they’ve been asked whether they want to try Time of Use pricing yet.

    Define “nearly complete”. The KW area hasn’t been touched and as far as I know neither has London. To me that seems a long way from “nearly complete”.

  30. So what is the subsidized-dollar-per-person-mile of our highways, and – given the assumed ridership and maximum capacity of a TGV line (speed, distance, safety factors) – what will be the subsidized-dollar-per-person-mile of the proposed TGV line?

  31. This is an excellent post, Paul. Perhaps Del Mastro became interested in passenger rail during the ill-fated plan to run commuter rail from Toronto to his riding, via Flaherty’s riding. Whatever the reason, it’s quite welcome for the reasons you outline.

  32. Oh yes, here’s another thing that bothers me. Just who will benefit the most from this project? Poor, marginalised people whose only dream is to one day travel from Toronto to Montreal (or from Montreal to Toronto) by train at a speed that’ll get them to their destination an hour or two faster than the available alternatives?

    Or would it be the people who already have the means to make the trip, who are going anyway, and would like the whole process to be a little bit more convenient?

  33. And why the heck is a MP from Peterborough flying this kite? Does he think that the train will stop in his home town?

    • My understanding is that Del Mastro was speaking as the head of the rail caucus, prompted by the reporter (i.e. he wasn’t shopping the high-speed-rail thing around, he was asked what’s new over at the rail caucus and he mentioned this). (And no, I didn’t know there’s a rail caucus either.) So his motives seem pure.

      As to Stephen Gordon’s question about why public money should be spent on such a project simply because it represents “neat stuff,” if it’s any consolation, Gordon is clearly on what has, historically, been the winning side of this argument. As chair of the Press Gallery’s neat-stuff caucus, I can report that “why bother?” almost always trumps “Hey, let’s!”. Canada remains mercifully empty of neat stuff.

      • Well, this isn’t France, you know. We don’t give points for style.

      • Mercifully empty of neat stuff like an abundance of fresh water and democracy and whatever remains of a free market economy and pretty decent worldwide respect and “G7” status and petroleum reserves and two major world languages and the Junior Hockey champions and our most protective ally being the most powerful nation on Earth and a standard-of-living for the poor that would be coveted by the well-to-do in many other places and seasons that change and a sane banking system and affordable telecommunication and places of stunning natural beauty and plenty of room for more people who want to join us and freedom of religious belief and the rule of law and…

        • and our most protective ally being the most powerful nation…

          What? Who?

          When has that otiose latrine ever gone to bat for us?

        • Oh, by the way, MYL. Nitpicker!

        • Is it just me, MYL, or are you fighting the good fight?

          • Least I can do for the country I love, Jack.

            (said with complete sincerity, ok, and maybe because it might also send a shiver down a few well-deserved spines…)

    • So you’ve been wrong for the last decade and your chosen profession has been revealed as nothing more scientific than astrology. No need to go on so.

    • I suspect Deano’s talking about it because he overheard Jim Flaherty snickering about it in a washroom at some point.

      And maybe he got a Lionel set for Christmas.

  34. Airlines can’t make money as it is (well one of them can’t anyways) so why shouldn’t the government subsidize even more competition and create even more losses? Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Perhaps even another special tax on airline tickets to help pay for high-speed rail links is in order. If we carry the idea far enough, we can bankrupt both major airlines and people will need to take trains, and it will be a smashing success.

  35. How about we build decent coast-to-coast highways (i.e. actual freeways) first?

    • How much does one cloverleaf cost again?

      • I’m guessing cheaper than building toy bullet trains that no one would use.

        • Again, where do you get the idea that no one would use the bullet trains???

  36. We need to send the neoliberals to re-education camps. They’ve screwed up everything in the last 30 years, after all.

    • What’s a neoliberal? Is that like a neokeynsian?

  37. new heat pump and mid efficiency furnace: 8700 bucks.
    R30 attic insulation and draft sealing: 1600 bucks
    new sliding door and front entranceway: 3000 bucks
    new windows: 7000 bucks
    gas bill: 18 bucks a month, down from 130.

    doing something more for the environment than naming my dog Kyoto: 20300 bucks.

    warm, non drafty house for my 1 and 3 year olds, priceless… well scratch that, still twenty thousand bucks, but you get the picture.

    ps My vote is for a high speed train from Vancouver to Victoria, we on the West Coast are all about expensive well meaning boondoggles

    pps Montreal and Vancouver are the two real cities, Toronto hasn’t had a turn at it’s over budget Olympics yet…

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