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.

churchill

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

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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!

Hudson bay--damage
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.”

Let’s Believe it When we See it!

High-speed passenger rail is taking the world by storm. Not only does it already exist in Europe, but it’s been munching up the miles in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

So, it’s no surprise that Ontario, Canada’s wealthiest and most populous province, is now trying to get on board. True,  Ontario’s proposal to lay down a line between Toronto and Windsor, four hours to the southwest, would cost billions. And the province doesn’t have that kind of money.

But Ontario is shelling out C$15 million to study the feasibility of such a service. And, well, ya gotta start some place, right?

The route the province is considering would snake through Ontario’s industrial heartland, tying together such cities as Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, the centre of the province’s high-tech industry. The route would also link London, a centre for education and medical research, and Chatham.

HSR NETWORK

More important, the route would make Toronto’s rapidly growing bedroom suburbs that much more attractive to immigrants and young couples who can no longer afford to buy a home in the city’s overheated housing market.

Then, too, if Ontario can pull high-speed rail out of a hat, it will have done what no government in Canada has managed to do. Although high-speed passenger service has long been touted for the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, it has yet to leave the station.

In the late 1960s, Canadian National Railways introduced the turbo, a high-speed passenger service between Montreal and Toronto. But, plagued with mechanical

lorne perry turbo

All aboard?

 

 

An electrifying announcement?

GO Transit, which ties Greater Toronto together with commuter buses and trains is one step closer to converting its railway system to electric traction. Or, is it?

The Canadian government has announced it’s lavishing C$1.9 billion on Regional Express Rail, GO’s $13.5-billion expansion program which will see electric locomotives replace diesels on GO’s railway network.

But the Toronto Star story that announced the funding failed to say if any of the $1.9 billion would actually be spent on electrification.

It did say that more  than $750 million would pay for upgrades to GO’s line to Kitchener, a city roughly 90 km southwest of Toronto, as well as one of the centre’s of Canada’s high-tech industry.

And with faster, more frequent commuter trains to Toronto, Kitchener, along with neighboring Waterloo, could quickly become more attractive to folks who want to work in Canada’s largest city, but who can no longer afford to live there.

 

The Star also noted that the rest of the $1.9 billion would pay for upgrades to GO’s other rail routes: the line to Barrie, north of Toronto, as well as the lines extending both east and west along Lake Ontario from Toronto’s union station.

Still, when it comes to supplying the greater Toronto area with badly needed commuter service, any news is good news, right?

 Map of GO Transit’s train routes

train_map-900x278

Hamilton is really getting on the GO

Mention Hamilton. Ont. and you think of  lunch buckets, bare knuckles and blue plate grub. That’s because the city of 520,000, roughly 60 kilometres west of Toronto, was for decades the centre of steelmaking in Canada.

But today, Hamilton increasingly stands to become a bedroom suburb of Toronto, thanks to more frequent train service.

With the widening of a bridge over the Desjardins canal just outside Hamilton’s downtown (see below), GO Transit,  Ontario’s commuter rail system, will soon provide the city with more frequent service.

And with home prices in Toronto continuing to skyrocket, good transit links will make Hamilton much more attractive to families who can no longer afford to live in Toronto.

But Hamilton isn’t the only locale that will benefit from the bridge widening. Ontario’s Niagara Region, which fans out from the city around the western end of Lake Ontario, will also be a beneficiary.

Indeed, GO eventually hopes to extend  its service to both St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. And when it does, both cities, now medium size, should also burgeon as bedroom suburbs.

Africa needs the economic blast that only railways can provide

Railways have historically been generators of economic growth, connecting new markets to existing ones, finding buyers in the interior for manufacturers on the coast. North America, for example, would never have become the economic powerhouse it became at the turn of the last century, had railways not laid down a dense web of lines. Indeed, by 1900, the rails blanketed the continent., their uniform gauge making possible the quick transfer of freight from Canada to the U.S. and vice versa.

But Africa is missing out on the economic blast that only railways can provide. More than 100 years after Cecil Rhodes dreamed of a Cape-to-Cairo line, the continent seems no closer than it was then to realizing Rhodes`dream.

And although dozens of rail lines run from various points on the coast to various parts of the interior, these tracks don`t even begin to suggest the likelihood of a continent-wide railway network — a network that will be difficult to build, given the different gauges that are now being used.