1.12 Railways – re-establishing the national dream

Canada’s national rail systems are in decline. We are the only country in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with no national transportation strategy. While Europeans have highly efficient inter-modal connectivity, with high speed rail linking downtown cores to airports, with bicycle lanes allowing people to move around cities safely, efficiently and pollution-free, with streetcars in the downtowns and even rural areas serviced by bus and rail, Canadian communities are increasingly stranded. Except for Vancouver, which has a downtown to airport rapid transit line built for the 2010 Olympics, and Toronto with a system currently under construction, nothing links our downtowns to airports other than a stretch of gridlocked traffic. Even along the Windsor-Quebec corridor, passenger rail is increasingly infrequent and outmoded. In much of Canada, rail routes that once moved thousands of people are abandoned. Edmonton to Calgary, Saskatoon to Regina, Halifax to Sydney have all been axed, despite their profitability. Even the tracks for freight between Truro and Cape Breton are being abandoned, and with them any hope of re-establishing passenger rail service.

Sir John A. Macdonald understood that to be a nation, to have a sense of shared identity and common purpose, Canada needed effective east-west links in communications, in energy delivery, and in transportation.

To renew this ‘national dream’ today requires a complete overhaul of our rail system for both passenger and freight. It will mean wherever possible shifting cargo containers off highways and onto freight trains, driving the development of freight distribution nodes (off-loading containers onto local trucks) along new ‘green corridors’. It will require a comprehensive plan for Alberta’s bitumen to increasingly process it in Alberta and stop over-burdening our rail system with rail cars loaded with bitumen for export.

The rail system changes will, over time, move to separate lines for passenger trains, particularly in well populated corridors. At the moment, freight owns the tracks and controls the traffic signals. Passengers are at the mercy of freight. New high-speed commuter trains will almost halve the travel time between Toronto and Ottawa and Toronto and Montreal to about two and a half hours. With downtown-to-downtown service, the train will be faster than the plane, when security and other airport delays are factored in. Reducing air travel will reduce greenhouse gases and remove the need to expand airports or build new ones, including the Pickering airport near Toronto. Better rail service will take cars off the roads between major cities, reducing air pollution, congestion, and loss of life in traffic accidents. An improved rail system will make Canada more economically competitive and provide thousands of new jobs.

Green Party MPs will re-establish Canada’s National Dream and:

  • Re-invest in our national rail systems, building more train cars in Canada, increasing train speeds and phasing in high speed rail where feasible, and creating green transportation and energy infrastructure corridors in key regions;

  • Give VIA Rail a statute-based mandate, modeled on the U.S.-laws that govern Amtrak;

  • Improve rail infrastructure and intermodal connections, increasing joint federal-municipal light rail investments, as well as improving VIA Rail service nationwide;

  • Work with railway companies to improve rail infrastructure and to restore VIA rail service to all major regional cities;

  • Create a national clean freight initiative, using both regulation and financial incentives to improve fleet efficiency and safety;

  • Bring forward regulations for Positive Train Control systems for passenger and freight, ensuring safer transport;

  • Support the trucking industry, reducing pollution through add-on generators to avoid the need to idle to maintain air conditioning and refrigeration, while ensuring the right fit of trucking in a more efficient, rail-based intermodal system.