Wednesday, February 20, 2008


BC Rail could've served Whistler at fraction of the cost of the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion, notes Ontario. What? Ontario??

[Noted in passing, thanks to "Google Alerts for BCRail" - BC Mary]

Letters to the Editor
The Owen Sound Sun Times, Ontario


Thank you for printing Lynne Bewley's letter, "Sure could use a train around here" in the Feb. 14 edition of The Sun Times. She makes a very good point. It would be nice to have passenger (and freight rail) service return to Owen Sound. It never will.

When a railway line is abandoned, the rail is lifted from the right-of-way to supply material for rehabilitating freight yards and passing sidings along a profitable mainline. Some of it is sold to regional railways and some of the "high iron" is stored for future use. As the rail is lifted, the roadbed is damaged and level grade crossings are permanently paved over.

To restore such infrastructure would be prohibitively expensive unless our three levels of government had a cohesive national transportation policy that would redistribute subsidies and tax incentives to Via Rail and the freight railways to make such ventures worthwhile. Highways and airports would no longer have their exclusive "ticket to ride." Believe me, there is no such policy at any level with the exception of a few visionary municipalities.

Orangeville [Ontario] had the foresight to realize that investment in the existing Streetsville to Owen Sound Canadian Pacific Railway line was vital to its economy and future development. The mayor of Owen Sound at the time sloughed off the benefits of railway service with a few poorly thought-out remarks. Apparently the city council agreed with him. No effort was made to rally municipalities north of Orangeville to preserve freight service. Without freight service, there could never be a restoration of passenger service.

Looking farther afield, British Columbia is currently wasting billions of dollars on "improvements" to the famous Sea-to-Sky Highway in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The once provincially owned British Columbia Railway line from North Vancouver to Prince George runs parallel to this highway its entire distance. At a fraction of the investment, this active freight line could be upgraded, signals installed, passing sidings increased and an enlarged station site at Whistler could be created to accommodate the tens of thousands who will need reliable winter transportation to and from the Whistler area.

What B.C. residents are getting is a highway that will allow one segment of society (the well-to-do) a new highway that will get their SUVs to Whistler 15 minutes faster than they can now. Policy? No. It's madness from both an economical and environmental point of view.

Federally, we have boffins dreaming in European technicolour about a high-speed train service in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor and perhaps the Calgary to Edmonton corridor. Throwing several billions of dollars at such TGV-like technology might be appealing but it makes no sense, given that the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence lowlands do not and will not have the population density to support such gold plated systems for literally decades to come. Alberta will never have such densities.

However, we do have excellent railway technology right here in North America to produce passenger trains that can run on existing infrastructure and improved infrastructure at speeds in excess of 160 kilometres an hour or 100 miles per hour. A forward thinking (and yes, very brave) national railway policy with the feds and provinces participating would render unnecessary much of the highway expansion that has constantly failed to alleviate highway congestion. The immediate success of [Ontario's] new Go Train service from south Barrie to Toronto is an obvious case in point and is a credit to the City of Barrie's planning department.

As taxpayers and concerned citizens we need to realize that the age of the single occupancy auto is rapidly coming to an end. So are stand-alone truck trailers. We can't afford them economically or environmentally. ...

Enlarging existing highways and building new ones will never satisfy potential passenger or freight demands for the coming century in ways that are cost effective. By cost effective, I mean costing that insists on honest accounting principles that measure not only economic need but the impact of transportation corridors on our natural environment and the quality of life within the communities that these corridors intersect.

Of course highways are necessary. Improving their roadbeds, surfaces, shoulders, bridges and safety features is sensible and in the public interest. The problem is private drivers, courier services, truck and bus companies do not begin to pay the real cost of reconstruction and maintenance of existing highways let alone new ones. Reduce the public tax subsidies to highways and charge road use fees and rail service will suddenly look viable and attractive to a lot of the skeptics. A level playing field for the railways and Via Rail would be nice place to begin a real national transportation policy....

Peter Mussen
Owen Sound

Interesting, eh. And Peter Mussen hasn't even mentioned twinning the Port Mann bridge or the Fraser Perimeter Highway or the Deltaport expansion onto farmland or the Asian Gateway dream. Will the $100. cash gift to British Columbians help them forget? - BC Mary.


"Policy? No. It's madness from both an economical and environmental point of view.

Unfortunately, I must respectfully disagree.

This is a policy.

Not a sound policy, but a policy nonetheless.

For developers.


(regardless my somewhat satirical/ironic quibble a very good and well informed letter - thanks Mary)
An excellent find Mary. The writer makes numerous very accurate points regarding infrastructure and the almost criminal way we have been basically throwing it away for no rational purpose.

As one with a soft spot for trains, having traveled across North America by train in my youth, I've despaired in recent decades as I watch while we lose the most practical means of moving both people and freight yet developed, in North America.

Back in the late 1960's I rode the "Coast Daylight" from San Francisco to Union Station in Los Angeles, mostly known today as a movie location. This was at perhaps the absolute nadir of US passenger service, at least in the West. The only passengers except my traveling companion and myself were retired railroaders who could ride for free and those afraid to fly and unable to drive. We could have hitch hiked the distance faster as our train was the lowest priority train on the track and most of the day was spent watching cars pass us, even on urban streets.

Recently since Y2K, I had an occasion to ride the "Coast Daylight" again. This time I took it from Eugene, Oregon to Seattle and was planning on carrying on to Vancouver, but met a friend in Seattle who was heading for the Kootenays via Spokane by pickup for professional reasons.

I was very happy to see MANY more people riding the train again (perhaps due to some promotion or maybe just increased fuel costs and the mobile congested sewer that I-5 can at times become). I was also pleased to see that with increased demand the service had much improved and can only expect that trend to continue.

The business model works. I know for myself, I would rather catch a train to Whistler, spend a day skiing and maybe have a few drinks apres ski and then hop back on the train to return home. How many cars can be handily parked at Whistler, and no matter how many, what a waste of space. Sitting on the train, after an active day at Whistler watching Howe Sound go by, certainly is a more attractive option to taking my chances with the Sea to Die Highway.
I find it ironic, but I'm getting used to it, that often the clearest view of what is happening with our erstwhile Railroad and the whole BC Rail issue is found in media originating in Ontario.

Kinda reminds me of when Justice Bennett found out what was going on in her own trial from media in Quebec, while we were none the wiser thanks to Canned Waste's dedication to protecting us from the truth.
RossK, Koot ... did you notice something? That feeling of belonging and passion and a sense of the landscape when you and the man from Owen Sound talked about trains. It brings a good feeling.

I hate when life's most precious things -- like landscape, trains, and a nice cuppa tea with a friend as you watch the world slide quietly past -- I mean, I hate when we can't defend these things on any terms except their $$$-value. Or the SUV- minutes they save.

It used to bug me in University Economics (see profile), these precious things which won't allow themselves to be reduced to cash. The precious things we should try hardest to protect.


Btw, on another topic -- or another kind of truth-telling about Media Monitors -- there's a dandy little editorial in today's News 250, the Prince George online newspaper. Ben Meissner is telling a bunch of "Planted Commentors" exactly where the bear shat in the buckwheat. Made me feel proud of Ben for speaking Northern dialect that way. Good on him.

See News 250, "Planted Comments".

And thanks, guys.

One wonders about the state of the roads between Prince George and Cache Creek if an effective BC Rail was used to haul even a small percentage of the freight currently hauled on trucks.

The following is something that Mr. Mair used to say about the current government that thought rang true:

"They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing."


Please explain, Anonymous 7:05.

You're thinking the roads might be better if heavy loads weren't being hauled?

Or ... ??

Re: 8:03

That's kind of my point. I have no hard evidence, but it seems to me that if we took a healthy percentage of the nine-axle vehicles off the road, you'd have a lot fewer potholes.

Just one more reason that a healthy railroad would be good for the Interior.
Not to mention real greenhouse gas emission reductions....

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