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Readers respond to Come On, Ride The Train: Why Canada Needs A National Rail Strategy (Oct.12)
Bring it on
When I first moved to Canada in 1968, Canada House in London organized my travel to a job in Thompson, Man. They recommended flying into Winnipeg, adding that there was no flight to Thompson until the next day.
I asked if there was an overnight train, thinking of the London-Edinburgh service taking five to six hours for a distance similar to that between Winnipeg and Thompson. Yes, there was, but the plane the next morning would still arrive much earlier than the train – at a travel time of about 28 hours.
To this day, I have never taken the train to Thompson. It’s not only slower, but also more expensive. It really would be nice if Canada could build a national rail service. It would probably help our GDP as well.
David Shefford Winnipeg
I am going to Germany soon and will take trains within the country. For a comparison: Munich to Berlin is about the same distance as Toronto to Montreal. Munich and Berlin also have metropolitan populations comparable to Toronto and a bit higher than Montreal.
To go from Toronto to Montreal, one can fly – which costs about $300, takes about four hours downtown to downtown and makes a mighty contribution to climate change. Or one can spend a lot longer driving – happily also contributing to climate change. Or one can take the train – which runs very occasionally and takes about 5.5 hours, with luck.
Munich to Berlin: The train departs every hour, consistently takes four hours and costs about $90. Lucky Germans, who have a government that actually seems to support public transit and climate-change action.
John Hepburn Vancouver
What about a high-speed train in Greater Vancouver? Unlike other cities that can grow in multiple directions, the Vancouver region is geographically constrained by mountains, ocean and a border into one, linear transportation corridor – a perfect situation for a train route.
Also consider that a potential solution to the region’s housing crisis is to move large parts of the population up the Fraser Valley. Let’s make this high-speed line six stops: Vancouver-Richmond-Surrey-Langley-Abbotsford-Chilliwack. At 250 kilometres an hour, someone could travel the entire length of the route in much less than an hour. It would be a huge win for the entire region.
Ron Unger New Westminster, B.C.
We keep hearing about the Quebec-Windsor corridor. Perhaps it is time to think a little bigger – just three kilometres bigger – and contemplate instead the Quebec-Detroit corridor.
Direct service to Detroit, at the centre of a metropolitan area of about 4.3 million people, could add significantly to passenger numbers and improve the business case for faster and more frequent trains in Southwestern Ontario.
It could also be tied in with long-stalled plans for high-speed trains between Detroit and Chicago. Tourism and business travel would both benefit, on both sides of the border.
Eric Hamovitch Montreal
Don’t stop there
Columnist Elizabeth Renzetti bemoans the sad state of passenger rail availability in Canada. She looked at high-speed passenger rail infrastructure in Europe, China and even the United States that provides alternatives to inter-city passenger car and airplane trips.
Canadians should also take note of our own roads: Anyone who has driven the Trans-Canada Highway would know that a significant and overbearing proportion of the vehicles are transport trucks.
A national, sustainable transportation strategy should electrify the mainline freight railways to return long-distance freight transportation to the railroads.
As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, highway fatalities would be reduced and road capacity freed up – for electric vehicles, of course.
D. B. Wilson Port Moody, B.C.
Although Canada is the only Group of Seven nation without high-speed rail, we likely lead the world in high-speed rail studies. I’m sure we can look forward to many more before we catch up to the likes of, say, Uzbekistan.
Tim Jeffery Toronto
And who would run it?
Is no one giving consideration to the possible role of government in launching a publicly owned and operated rail system? Ensuring energy efficiency and staving off the imminent impact of climate disruption will surely require such a level of government intervention.
Stephen Seaborn Toronto
And the environment?
When speaking to high-speed rail being better for our environment than cars and planes, it’s vital to consider the full environmental costs.
Since high-speed rail operates most efficiently using straight rail lines, two processes are essential to its implementation: high levels of land appropriation (and subsequent displacement of people and communities) and a huge amount of construction – raised viaducts or bore tunnels are vital to accommodate the preferred straight rail lines. There is also the massive amounts of raw materials: cement, steel, gravel, stone. That’s all before any additional construction to build or expand stations with links to other transit, including, surely, to airports.
We already have roads, highways and airports, and the environmental costs for repairing this existing infrastructure would be nowhere near that of building a high-speed rail service in Canada
Esther Shannon Vancouver
Maybe slow down
This country was built on rail, and modern rail is still the most efficient inter-city mode in terms of environmental sustainability and comfort. Yet, in the past decades, we have built palatial airports that encourage the most polluting form of travel, and have allowed Via Rail to founder.
High-speed rail, however, should not be the answer – it is glamourous but, in my estimation, too costly for our relatively small population. There are existing proposals that offer faster, affordable modern rail systems, such as the Via 1-4-10 Plan and the This is High Performance Rail report by the non-government organization Transport Action Canada.
Using a network of inter-city rail on existing corridors with inter-community bus feeders would provide efficient transportation, and free up airport capacity for long-haul travel. Rail should be the mode for short and medium distances, not airlines.
Build it, and I believe they will come.
Peter Miasek Markham, Ont.
Too vast a country and too thin a ridership for economic inter-city links, Canada should focus on fast commuter trains for metropolitan areas, where many people use cars to avoid transit. So-called rapid transit is often tortuously slow compared to cars that congest our freeways. The solution should be fast trains, and that requires we stop building conventional subways, light rail and bus routes that seem to be milk-run time-wasters.
John Stonier Vancouver
In admiring China’s high-speed rail system, one shouldn’t overlook that the Chinese government may use its “muscle” to put through anything it likes, wherever it likes. No messy, inconvenient environmental assessments, nor consideration for existing towns.
Germany, Britain, France and Italy seem to do it right – when rail employees are not striking – while we are left behind.
But Canadians don’t necessarily need high-speed rail; what we need are dedicated passenger rail lines. Proper high-speed switches would need to be installed, and there should be no level crossings. Existing rolling stock would then be able to move at incredible speeds, and become more reliable. Politicians like to make grand announcements such as a high-speed rail line, but the above should be all that is needed to improve things considerably.
There are also many other issues of convenience, such as easily bringing on board one’s bicycle, rather than layering it with restrictions, as Via Rail has done. Europe is wonderful in this regard as well.
Henry G. Furlott Toronto
I believe many Canadians would like to see regular, lower-speed passenger rail service between many cities countrywide, rather than a high-speed one between our largest metropolises.
Withdrawal of long-distance bus services in the West has left many of us without any options. Re-establishment of regular trains on the southern prairies between Winnipeg and Calgary, or even further west to Kamloops, B.C., would be a good start.
Gary Soucey Medicine Hat, Alta.
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