Lesson no. 1: Don’t believe the Press Releases!

If the pronouncements of Canada’s two major railways are any indication, both outfits are nimble, well-equipped and able to deliver the goods. Quickly.

Each press release seems to outdo the one before in describing the powerful new locomotives they’re  buying, the new track they’re laying down, or the upgrades they’re making to bridges, freight yards and signal systems.

So, it comes as a shock to hear that CN Rail and Canadian Pacific were recently clogged with grain shipments — so much so that Canada’s reputation as a reliable exporter is now on the line, while the country’s grain growers may be facing a cash crunch.

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A CN Rail grain train at Morinville, Alta.

Indeed, Canada’s Ag Transport Coalition says that during the week of Feb. 12, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific  together provided only 38 per cent of the rail cars ordered by grain shippers. More precisely, CP Rail  delivered 66 per cent of its orders; CN Rail,  just 17 per cent.

To clear the backlog, Canadian National is urging some of its workers to postpone retirement, while enticing some of its retired employees to come back to work!

It’s also deploying qualified managers to run extra trains, as well as adding crews in western Canada. Moreover, to boost its hauling capacity, CN Rail has leased 130 diesel locomotives.

Meanwhile, two Canadian cabinet ministers — Marc Garneau (transportation) and Lawrence MacAulay (agriculture) — have called the railways’ performance disappointing.

Canadian National’s sluggishness has already claimed one victim:  its CEO, Luc Jobin. Mr. Jobin abruptly resigned March 5, amid a statement from CN’s board of directors that the railway needed a leader who could “realize CN’s corporate vision,” as well as take the company forward.

 

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It isn’t Art

Hideous. Embarrassing. An eyesore.

Graffiti on railway freight cars may be many things, but art isn’t one of them.  Just ask the railways.  Not only does graffiti often cover up identification numbers and other important information, but it reportedly costs at least  US$1,000 just to paint over each side of the lower half of a freight car. In addition, the daubs and pop-art lettering do little to enhance corporate image.

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But there’s another problem that troubles freight haulers and that’s the danger in which graffiti “artists” could find themselves.  Although box cars and other rolling stock may be standing still when the painters attack, a string of cars can start moving at any time, thereby endangering life and limb.

To date, though, the railways haven’t come up with any method of easily stripping off the graffiti. Or, if they have, they obviously haven’t been using it, as can be seen when any freight train in North America rumbles by.

 

 

 

African Union on the Right Track

If there’s one thing Africa badly needs, it’s a continent-wide railway network. Africa is no nearer one than it was back in the late 19th Century when Cecil Rhodes first broached the idea of a Cape-to-Cairo railway.

Indeed, Africa lags far behind both North America and Europe, which have long since enjoyed continent-wide connectivity. Indeed, Canada and the U.S. sewed up an integrated network more than 100 years ago.

But Africa may have taken steps, albeit small ones, to piece together a more unified railway system. Abou-Zeid Amani, the African Union’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy,  recently said that railway connectivity is one of the union’s flagship projects.

True, that project might seem over-ambitious, given its call for high-speed railways linking  all of Africa’s capitals and big cities.  But putting railway connectivity on the AU’s to-do list is still a big step forward.

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Time to start building again

How many years elapse between the opening of a new airport and its first major expansion? Fourteen, if it’s Ben-Gurion, Israel’s busiest airport.

Its main terminal, opened in 2004, was designed to handle 10 million passengers a year. But in 2017, Ben-Gurion put through double that number. Not surprisingly, the airport is bracing for more passengers — 30 million, to be exact, by 2022.

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Check-in at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport

So, Israel Airports Authority, Ben-Gurion’s parent, is whipping out its check book, earmarking US$1.4 billion for upgrading. Not only will it add 86 check-in stations, but it will build more stations for self check-in. It will also add six more screening machines, eight passenger boarding bridges and two shuttle gates. And, to handle more planes, the airport will expand the runway apron.

 

Israel’s new airport looks great. Now how about some good ground transportation?

Israel, to great fanfare, is about to open its newest and biggest airport at Timna, just 18 kilometres north of Eilat, the country’s southernmost city.

And there’s reason to celebrate. Unlike Ben-Gurion Intl., Israel’s main airport near Tel Aviv,  Timna — officially Eilat Ramon Airport — will have plenty of room to expand. After all, it’s been built in the desert.

Moreover, with two long parallel runways, Eilat Ramon will be able to handle many more flights than Eilat’s existing airport, which is tiny. Indeed, Israel hopes the new facility will attract many more plane loads of European sun seekers.

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Israel’s new airport at Timna

But if  the new airport is to reach its potential, it will need good, swift ground transportation to the rest of Israel — something it now lacks.

Unlike Ben-Gurion, which will soon be linked to a high-speed railway line to Jerusalem, Eilat Ramon now has no rail link whatsoever. And although Israel hopes to build one between Eilat and Dimona many kilometres to the north, it has yet to put any shovels in the ground or turn over any sod.

A nice idea, but . . .

Toronto’s Pearson Intl. Airport wants to build a massive transit hub on adjacent land.

The hub, which would cost billions, would tie together GO Transit, the Toronto region’s commuter train service; UP Express, a newly opened rail link between Pearson and Toronto’s Union Station; the bus service for the city of Mississauga, a growing bedroom suburb on Toronto’s western flank; streetcar lines and maybe even a high-speed rail link.

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What Pearson’s new transportation hub would look like

Support for the new transit hub, dubbed Union Station West, is growing, reports the Toronto Star, which says the Canadian government is now giving the project serious consideration. Ditto for Ontario.

Yet, the folks in the planning department would do well to cast their eyes eastward to Pickering, a rapidly growing bedroom city on Toronto’s eastern flank. There, pressure is building for the Canadian government to dust off its decades-old plan to construct an airport to serve that region. And if it does, it would only make sense to pair the airport with a transportation hub similar to the one Pearson now wants to build

True, Nimbyism killed the Pickering airport years ago. But Pearson’s growing throughput may yet make a new airport a reality. After all, it’s unlikely that Pearson, which last year handled a record 40 million passengers, will lay down any new runways in the near future. Moreover, travellers who live in the Pickering area may be increasingly reluctant to drive all the way across the top of Toronto just to catch a flight..

Nimbies Unite!

Folks in Pickering, Ont., one of Toronto’s rapidly growing bedroom suburbs, don’t want an airport in their backyard.

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They successfully blocked a bid to build one way back in the 1970s. And they continue to oppose the construction of one now.

But Roger Anderson begs to differ. He’s the chairman of the regional municipality of Durham, the supra-political body that includes Pickering and its neighbors. And he thinks the best thing the region can do to ignite its economy is to build an airport.

 

Indeed, should the Canadian government go ahead and do so, he believes, businesses would cluster themselves around the airport left, right and centre.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain:  those residents who oppose the construction of an airport will be certain to make their voices heard!

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Hail a Taxi. Build a Better Taxiway!

New York’s JFK Airport is in line to get better taxiways. A good thing too. Two separate incidents there in mid-August saw planes clip each other’s wings while on the taxiways. Fortunately, no one was injured. But America’s National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

JFK is a victim of its original template, which was laid down in the 1950s and ’60s. That layout encircles terminals with two tightly spaced taxiways. Their proximity sometimes makes it hard for planes to enter and exit departure gates.

Indeed, the cheek-by-jowl set-up can put moving planes closer together than at other airports, says a report from Bloomberg News. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-17/delta-jets-hit-two-planes-truck-over-24-hours-at-new-york-s-jfk).

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Taxiways and landing strips at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport

Thanks to a US$10-billion upgrade, JFK is getting interconnected terminals,  centralized parking lots, more flights, new lanes (in both directions) on the Van Wyck Expressway, and state-of-the-art security that includes facial recognition technology.

 

 

Little Israel, big Accomplishment

Name a top-rated airport in the world and Singapore’s Changi comes to mind. Or
Dubai Intl. in Dubai. Or Schipol in Amsterdam. But Ben-Gurion in Israel?

After all, Changi has consistently garnered top billing in Travel + Leisure’s annual ranking, Dubai is relatively spanking new and Schipol has long been a top hub in Europe.

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Passenger lounge at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport

Yet, Ben-Gurion, hardly the dominant airport in its neighborhood, managed to elbow out both Schipol and Dubai to take third spot in Travel + Leisure’s list for 2017.  In fact, with a score of 79.40, Ben-Gurion came in less than one point below Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

And although Travel + Leisure doesn’t give reasons for its rankings, one reason for its choice of Ben-Gurion may be that airport’s much-vaunted level of security.  Unlike Istanbul or Brussels, Ben-Gurion hasn’t witnessed a terrorist attack in decades.

Regardless, Ben-Gurion’s high score is certainly something that both the airport and Israel can take pride in.

Trudeau Rides to the Rescue!

Churchill, Man., Canada’s sub-Arctic seaport, is still cut off from the outside world by land.

The tiny (pop. 900) town on the south shore of Hudson Bay has always depended on a rickety rail line for freight shipments from the rest of Canada, there being no highway connection.

But the rail link was broken this spring when flood waters washed out whole sections of track. And Omitrax, the line’s owner, says it can’t afford the C$20-$60 million it claims it will need to put the line back into operation.

But the company may soon have to contend with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister. Mr. Trudeau, who recently met with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, says Omitrax must live up to its obligations.

“We’re looking at all options as we ensure that contracts and obligations are respected and fulfilled,” said Mr. Trudeau when asked if the Canadian government would sue Omitrax for breach of contract.

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Grain elevator at Churchill, Man. with rail connection to rest of North America