The small thinking of the railroader.

It was a long time ago. When heading to Montreal for an important luncheon, we heard the Toronto airport had problems and instead of going west to the airport, the route chosen was south to Toronto’s Union Station. With one more passenger comfortably seated in the club car, the train started for Montreal. It almost got to Guildwood station (at the eastern edge of Toronto) before it stopped and started backing up. It went all the way back through Union Station and into the freight yards and there it sat—for more than an hour.

Somewhat concerned about the delay, we headed down the train looking for a conductor. Finding one he laughed and responded to our query about forward progress with “Missed your plane, did you?” He turned to some regulars he was talking with and said “Another frequent flyer!”

That was the last time we took a Via train unless we had a very good book and some down time to waste. In Canada the railroader’s definition of ‘on time’ is ‘what day?’

It is also why we have always been very impressed with France’s TGV and the Japanese Shinkansen. They are inexpensive, electric, fast, on time and Via Rail cannot compete.

But what really galls is that at the turn of the Twentieth Century, southern Ontario had a network of interurban electrified rail cars that carried parcels and passengers efficiently and well. We gave up that advantage for the pollution of the internal combustion engine and slower diesel trains.

This subject arises from reading that the CEO of Via Rail has a scheme to lay before the new Minister of Transport in the Trudeau government. He wants the feds to approve a $4 billion plan for Via Rail to have dedicated tracks in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal rail corridor. He wants to more than double the number of trips from each city each day. He thinks this would convince more commuters to switch from their automobile to the trains—as many as five million more passengers per year.

Like most railroaders, the Via CEO thinks small. Yes, we need dedicated tracks for passenger trains in the corridor. They should also be electrified and capable of handling speeds of more than 300 kilometres per hour. That speed would challenge air travel as well as the private automobile. Mind you, the trains would need to be on time.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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