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Editorial: Canadian high speed rail is more than feasible

(The following editorial appeared on The Windsor Star website on June 13, 2009.)

WINDSOR — Via Rail Canada president and CEO Paul Cote has given the idea of a high-speed rail service from Windsor to Quebec City a much-needed boost.

"I can assure you that the people at Via Rail have the competence, the expertise and the motivation (to become a partner in a high-speed rail project)" Cote told the House of Commons Transport committee recently. "If we are allowed to do this and if the context permits, Via Rail will be able to show its expertise, quality and experience developed over all the years."

As we've long argued, a modernized rail line would generate new jobs, promote economic development and reduce pollution.

Trains travelling at 200 km/h -- common in other parts of the world -- would radically change the way we think about travel and open up tremendous economic opportunities.

A two-way commute from Windsor to Toronto, for example, would take only three hours -- making it easier for both business and pleasure travel.

It would be possible to actually live in Windsor and work in Toronto.

The real question is just how serious the senior governments are about putting a train on a high-speed track -- there have been more than a dozen studies over the past 25 years and none has moved the process along.

This time, however, there is reason for optimism.

First, the economic downtown has placed an emphasis on investing in infrastructure projects. Second, Ottawa and the Ontario and Quebec governments are going to undertake a $3-million study to look at the feasibility of a high-speed rail link between Windsor and Quebec City. They plan to update a 1995 study that estimated a Windsor-Quebec City line would take 10 years to build at a cost of about $18 billion.

The EcoTrain Consortium -- Dessau, MMM, KPMG, Wilbur Smith & Associates and Deutsche Bahn International -- is expected to make recommendations in 2010.

As well, in the U.S., President Barack Obama plans to spend billions of dollars under a plan that is exploring a dozen high-speed corridors in the U.S., including regions that would reach Montreal, Vancouver, Windsor and possibly Buffalo, near Toronto. That would open up the possibility of high-speed rail lines tying North America together.

High-speed rail is obviously a necessary step if train travel is ever going to maximize its potential in this country. And all the signs indicate that a modern, fast system will increase ridership.

For example, Cote told the Transport committee that the corporation has increased its ridership by 33 per cent and its revenues by 110 per cent since 1990 as a result of improvements to both service and infrastructure.

As Transport 2000 Canada president David Jeanes has pointed out, Canada is far behind most other industrialized nations when it comes high-speed rail.

"Every aspect of high-speed rail has been studied to death," said Jeanes. "What we need is the political will. There's renewed interest."

High-speed rail is more than feasible -- it's a doable project that could lead to local economic opportunities and bring Canadian rail travel into the 21st century.

Monday, June 15, 2009

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