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

A Great Idea. But Will it Ever Get on Track?

Want to know why some passenger trains have been such a hit? They run on dedicated rights of way.  No sitting in sidings waiting for 150-car freight trains to rumble by. No commuter trains to hopscotch around.  Just passenger trains. And if the right of way is custom-built for high speed, so much the better.

Small wonder that Via Rail, Canada’s version of Amtrak, wants to get its own tracks between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto– lines it must share with Canadian National Railways, as well as with the commuter services in Canada’s two biggest cities.

But the exclusive right of way may be a long time in coming. The main reason? The high price tag: C$4 billion. At a time when the Canadian government is chary of coughing up billions of dollars to help Toronto expand its subway, it’s a good bet it won’t want to cough up even more money for Via Rail, a federally funded operation.

Then, too, where will Via build its right of way? The logical choice would seem to be alongside CN Rail’s existing main line since it serves more populated areas than the Montreal-Toronto line operated by rival Canadian Pacific06-05-VIA-673x427 (1).

But simply putting down another two tracks besides CN’s double-track line would be daunting. Overpasses, as well as bridges, would have to be widened. And finding space along the existing rights of way into both Toronto and Montreal would be hard.

Still, Via’s proposal is a gambit to stir the blood! Stay tuned!

 

 

On to the Bay . . . Well, not So Fast!

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SUPPLIED A motorcyclist and adventure seeker from Colorado, rode a dirt bike along the bay line from Thompson to Churchill. Reached on Tuesday near Split Lake on the return trip to Thompson, Green said that when he began his expedition, he was already aware that rail service has been suspended because of flood damage. So, as he made his way up the line, he took photos. The photographs he produced – time stamped on June 14 and obtained by the Free Press – reveal a situation much different than the one described by Omnitrax.

Canada’s Prairie farmers can be excused if they’re shedding a few tears. The railway link across  northern Manitoba, one of Canada’s Western provinces, to the tiny port of Churchill (pop. 900) on Hudson Bay has been sliced and diced by recent floods. The damage reportedly is so extensive that the operator, Omnitrax Canada, says the line may be out of service for months.

The outage is particular poignant for the farmers. Not only did they agitate for years for the line to be built, but they saw it as a way of freeing themselves from the high cost of shipping their grain to the Lake Superior port of Thunder Bay, Ont., Canada’s main outlet for Prairie wheat. And even though the line to Churchill has never lived up to its promise, it was, for Western Canadians, still their very own line.

But Omitrax may be exaggerating the seriousness of the washouts. A Winnipeg Free Press story on June 20 (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/photos-from-the-ground-tell-different-story-about-hudson-bay-railway-conditions-429783063.htmlsuggests that because flood waters have receded, getting the line back on track may take less time than the company originally said it would.

Not only does Omitrax want to unload the line, but it has been trying to do so for more than a year to a consortium of First Nations.

“A deal in principle has been reached,” the Free Press reports.  “But the First Nations have stated publicly they need support from the federal and provincial governments to complete the purchase.”