Forging Links Across Continents

When it comes to throwing down railway tracks, China is nothing if not ambitious. Hardly a day goes by when it doesn’t announce the construction of yet another  line into the fastness of the Middle Kingdom, or the opening of yet another route for high-speed passenger trains.

But it’s in forging rail links to the rest of Asia and Europe where China is most ambitious. The country has already dispatched freight trains to Spain. And it would seem to like nothing more than to punch a standard-gauge line through Central Asia to Turkey.

China is also keen to link up with its neighbors — no mean feat, given their different gauges, as well as their lack of rail infrastructure itself.

Indeed, the break of gauge is particularly troublesome, as the map below shows. Yet, one shouldn’t rule out the possibility that a  country as big and powerful as China won’t step in and convert neighboring railway systems to standard gauge.

trans-asian railway system

 

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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

Pearson is Pointing Itself in the Right Direction

Many airports worldwide already tie in air travel with rail, bus and subway transportation. Just think of Heathrow in London or Hong Kong International. Even Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, a piker among the world’s heavyweights, is directly connected to that country’s railway network.

But Toronto’s Pearson International lacks this setup. True, it does boast a rapid transit link to Toronto’s busy Union Station. But it still lacks direct connections to Via Rail, Canada’s nationwide passenger service, or to GO Transit, the commuter network that serves Toronto and its sprawling bedroom communities. Pearson also lacks any direct connection with Toronto’s subway lines.

But all this may be about to change. The airport now says it wants to morph into a mega-transportation hub with direct links to GO Transit and to the Toronto Transit Commission. The hub would also provide a berth for bus service for the City of Mississauga, the rapidly expanding city on Toronto’s western flank.

Moreover, to pay for the new hub, Pearson would allow private investors to take ownership stakes in the airport.

And although the proposed hub is just that, a proposal, it could send Pearson’s passenger numbers soaring — no small consideration, given that the airport, which in 2016 handled 40 million travelers, is Canada’s busiest.

Proposed transportation hub at Toronto’s Pearson Intl. Airport

transport hub

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.