Canadian Cities need Hi-Speed Rail

by Gord Hume

High speed rail (HSR) travel has been a missing link in North America's urban planning and transportation strategies for decades. It has been embarrassing as other nations have plunged forward with significant investments in HSR.

The benefits seem blindingly obvious to many dramatic reductions in GHGs as you remove SOVs from the highway; more efficient use of resources; faster travel times; benefits to local economies, and more.

Not to mention a much more humane travel experience than sitting in a car on the highway, sweating and cursing as stop-and-go traffic drives you crazy.

I've been fortunate to travel on a number of hi-speed trains around the world. The fastest was in Shanghai, where the mag-lev train (that is, magnetic levitation the wheels never actually touch the tracks because magnets create lift and propulsion) scooted me to the airport at 431 kms/hr. My cup of tea didn't quiver. 

The Chunnel train from Paris to London isn't that fast, but it is fast. And comfortable. Nice wines, great food, what's not to like? And you end up downtown, without all of the waits and delays and humiliations that air travellers usually experience. Security is still tight, of course, and should be, but it is tolerable.

European trains have a wonderful record of on-time performance. Asian trains are impeccable in their scheduling. It is a smart, comfortable, affordable and convenient way to travel from city to city.

There is considerable hope and enthusiasm in southern Ontario after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced in London recently that the provincial government is investing $15 million on a comprehensive environmental assessment for a new hi-speed rail line that would link Toronto-London-Windsor. Travel times would be roughly cut in half, meaning you could go from downtown London to Pearson Airport in Toronto in an hour, and downtown Toronto a few minutes later.

The implications are staggering. A one-hour commute opens up huge new possibilities for young people to work in Toronto but live in London, KW or even Windsor. They could afford decent housing and still enjoy a great lifestyle. Conversely, people could live in Toronto but work at universities, hospitals or other businesses in cities across southern Ontario. It would eliminate a lot of barriers to economic development and modern economies.

The total projected cost of the full project is about $21 billion. "This is an idea that has been around a very long time. This has been talked about for decades. The best time to have built high speed rail was 40 years ago. The second best time is today," Premier Kathleen Wynne said in London as she announced the project. 

She is correct. This is long overdue.

Whether it is just election rhetoric or whether it will become a reality over the next decade remains to be seen. What is most important and most encouraging is that there is a solid business case for this, and an endorsement from the current government.

Obviously money would have to come from the private sector, pension funds and the public purse. That should be doable. Reducing traffic on the 401 would result in significant environmental benefits as well as savings in expanding highways.

If this becomes just another campaign promise that is betrayed, then people will be rightly angered. Sometimes big public projects need to cross party lines and just get done. The start of Hi-speed rail in Canada is too important for political deviation.

It is time for Canada to join the rest of the world in modern transportation planning. The HSR in southern Ontario is a great place to start. Get it done.

Gord Hume


Gord Hume is recognized as one of Canada's leading voices on municipal government and is an articulate and thoughtful commentator on civic government and community issues. He is a very popular public speaker, an advisor to municipal governments, and a respected and provocative author.

Gord was elected to London City Council four times. He has had a distinguished career in Canadian business, managing radio stations and as Publisher of a newspaper. Gord received two “Broadcaster of the Year' awards. He is now President of Hume Communications Inc., a professional independent advisor to municipalities.

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