Tag Archives: Railways

Using Socialism to Finance a Transportation Revolution in Canada

Our last attempt at high-speed transport in Canada: the Turbo Train, 1973 - not the work of the author.

The People have a right to move.

So too, does the State – it’s vital that the State have the ability to move large amounts of people and materiel to support the People, really, whenever the People call for it. And the People and the State are one – given that the State would not exist without the People. I find it odd that I would have to go through this diatribe, but given the state of political discourse in this country, this world, it is vital too that the people recognize the State – in a democracy – must work in the service of the collective. Yes, our society is based on Socialist principles.

A populist appeal, a vision for strategic State economic-planning and the real threat of losing our national sovereignty compelled John A. Macdonald, our beloved drunken-buffoon of a first Prime Minister, to work towards completing Canada’s first transcontinental rail link. It was done as a means to encourage British Columbia to join Confederation, not to mention that a transcontinental link was necessary for continued economic expansion and would further solidify the foundation of the fragile young state. Despite a near chronic lack of funding and the Pacific Scandal, the link was completed by the mid-1880s, and Canada was bound in a railway. Canada today has not one, but two major international rail carriers; they are in fact among the largest transportation companies and networks in the entire world.

But when it comes to moving people in Canada, well, we’re coming up short. That’s being overly polite – we’ve shat the bed. Canada, once a world leader in railway design and associated technologies & services, is today considerably behind the times. We have no high-speed link – none – nowhere in Canada do trains travel in excess of 200km/hour. In fact, most don’t go faster than 150km/hour, and that’s painfully slow given that speed of modern trains. Compared to a growing list of nations, such as France, the UK, Germany, Japan and China, Canada lags behind without something largely becoming vital to a first world transportation system – a high-speed electric train. What’s worse is that we have the technology and the industry – least to mention the wide-open expanses – to build a system that could link the nation in incomparable ways. And it would make sense that we ought to have one too – except that time and time again, the Canadian People choose the path of least resistance, and choose the party that looks best on camera. This party, whether wearing Grit Red or Tory Blue, has no real plans for high-speed rail in Canada because they exist in a state of perpetual TV-readiness; prepared to argue, never to act.

It would seem that the Canadian People, much like our American cousins, have lost sight that they have a responsibility to demand progressive action from their elected representatives. Whom they elect, they elect to fight to build what is missing, provide what is lacking – instead, our political battles aren’t over projects anymore, they’re over nuances in policy, in personal attacks and the promotion of an endless cavalcade of wars on apparent immoralities. Who has time to build a world-class high-speed train network when you’re caught up fighting for abstinence-only sex education in some rural backwater middle school, right?

There was once a time when the Prime Minister felt a personal responsibility to build a transcontinental rail link – as a means to connect the whole country though also to propel the development of smaller provincial and city networks as well – so that all Canadians could easily move around our great nation. Today, trying to do the same on VIA – if you want a berth that is – will cost you thousands of dollars and take several days. The only people who seem to be able to afford the privilege of crossing our country by rail are retired middle-class types who think it might be romantic. Good lord! Are you telling me there’s no practical need?

I think it’s obvious our country has to invest in affordable high-speed rail transit, and provide all Canadians a quick and efficient means to get across this vast nation. I think it’s a right shared by all of us, and the State has a responsibility to provide it to us. But we’re clearly going to have to make it a priority for them. Once again, the State works towards the benefit of the People – always.

Consider what your life would be like if you could hop on a regularly scheduled bullet train from Montréal to Toronto and the trip took less than three hours, was perfectly comfortable, and cost a fraction of a current regular fare ticket. A high-speed line serving the Windsor-Québec City corridor would attract large numbers of riders based on novelty and geography alone – and in so doing, just such a system could potentially move massive quantities of people throughout this region each day. If the distance from Montréal to Toronto is about 600km, and some French and Japanese bullet train models currently travel in excess of 350km/hour, then it is foreseeable that a future high-speed network in Canada may reach even higher speeds. Imagine a ten-hour trip to Vancouver from Montréal? It’s technically possible now, and the sheer volume of people that could be moved by just such a system would allow significant savings for travelers, which in turn would pay back the initial investment. What’s more, a high-speed link connecting major cities across the country could itself spur the development of new provincial systems to allow even greater rail coverage.

Rail seems to me to be an inherently socially conscious means of transit. It’s big, it’s fast, it can move a lot of people, who in turn share the limited space within. Most importantly, it can be ecologically and economically sustainable, and was initially instituted in this nation because our elected leaders felt they owed it to the People to link up as many small towns and big cities to the same, shared network.

There’s no reason not to invest in rail. We need to establish a far better degree of inter-connectivity in Canada, and should further encourage people to abandon more polluting technologies in favour of the State-sponsored socially conscious alternative. We need to make it easy for people to get out and visit the country – we don’t do this nearly enough, and it isn’t getting any easier. Canadians need to realize that their nation is massive and diverse, and if it was cheap to get around I’m certain many more of us would jump at the opportunity to get out and explore it. But it will take the will of the People to elect a State that seeks to invest in itself, as that is the best method to encourage new growth and a stronger economy. We need a transportation revolution in Canada to improve all our lives, but we must also be willing to pay for it, and recognize that strategic planning does not bestow much instantaneous gratification. And perhaps this is why so few of our politicians promote it – they likely won’t be around to reap the benefits of their petitioning as their political career is a mere stepping stone into the world of corporate governance.

And that is the great sad truth of our era, and something I hope we’ll one day do without, because I’m getting sick and tired spending seven-ten hours traveling to Toronto on the Megabus. Seriously, what’s up with that twenty minute mad-dash at the Kingston Bus Terminal Tim Horton’s anyways?

This article was originally published on Forget the Box.