The Gazette, Montreal, Thursday, July 31, 2003
The recent debate about federal Transport Minister David Collenette's proposal to implement high-speed rail in the Quebec-Windsor corridor has been disappointing. With the notable exception of Gazette columnists Henry Aubin (Column, July 17, “Fast train to Toronto is well worth the price”) and Peter Hadekel (Column, July 17, “High-speed train on right track”), we’ve been hearing the same tired excuses that have blocked railway investment for decades and left us with our current transportation crisis.
Murtaza Haider (Opinion, July 14, “Slow down that fast train”) introduced yet another red herring, suggesting we should forget intercity rail and invest in urban transit instead. We certainly do need to invest in urban transit, but we need effective intercity transportation just as much.
The overwhelming majority of public investment in transportation in North America for the past 50 years has gone into highways. Experience has shown than road congestion cannot be cured by increased capacity; yet massive investment in new highways happens frequently with little debate. In the long term, congestion can be reduced only by providing alternatives such as good rail service.
Air travel is one of the great liberating technologies of the 20th century, and yet we are abusing it by forcing travellers out to airports, through security controls and on to planes for short trips (under 800 kilometres). The inconvenience of airports and the energy consumption of planes make short flights an inexcusable waste of human and natural resources. And why should costly airport expansion plans (often made necessary by congestion due to excess short-haul traffic) be considered a useful investment whereas providing an efficient high-speed rail alternative is dismissed as an expensive fantasy?
There is no technical reason why Canada cannot have a balanced, intermodal transportation system with road, rail, and air conveniently interconnected and complementing each other. The population and intercity distances in the Quebec-Windsor corridor amply justify the improved rail service that has been proposed. Many other corridors could easily justify upgraded or restored rail service if service levels and connections were adequate.