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.

Union Station West

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..

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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.

ben gurion lounge

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.

churchill

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!

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.”

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

 

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

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

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.