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.

a-canadian-national-freight-train-loading-grain-cars-at-the-grain-F96GWA

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.

Freight_Whole_Car_Piece

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.

africarail

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!

 

 

Let’s get on the GO — to Orangeville!

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, recently noted (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-driven-growth-fuels-boom-in-sleepyshelburne/article34205376) how Toronto’s relentless expansion is engulfing hitherto largely rural towns like Orangeville, (pop: 30,700), roughly 80 km. northwest of the city.

Even towns farther afield, such as Shelburne (pop: 7,200), are falling prey to Toronto’s juggernaut, given the unquenchable desire of city folk for affordable housing. Not only have home prices in Toronto gone through the roof, but they show no signs of coming back to earth anytime soon.

(Freight train serving Orangeville, Ont., Canada)

GO Transit is the bus and railway network that links downtown Toronto to its far-flung suburbs. And its trains neither serve Orangeville nor Shelburne. But a railway line to Orangeville does exist , (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangeville_Brampton_Railway), albeit a single-track one. Moreover, it’s now used only for freight. But as a right of way for future GO service, it’s obviously valuable nonetheless.