Execs pitch railways


Building a new rail infrastructure beats 'expensive' investment on roads
Mike Pettapiece
The Hamilton Spectator - November 6, 2002

Canada's railways are making a mainline pitch for big public spending on rail corridors and truck-train depots.

A rail spokesman said new investment would ease traffic gridlock, lead to cleaner air, reduce urban sprawl and save farmland.

Spokesman Bill Rowat says it's time to cut back on highways and focus more on efficient freight and passenger rail service.

Spokesmen say environmental benefits of rail traffic, via such carriers as this high-speed locomotive, are too significant to ignore.

"Roads are extremely expensive for governments -- about $15 million per lane mile added to existing highways in a city like Hamilton," said Rowat.

"And (it costs) about $30 million per mile to build a new road such as the mid-peninsula highway," he added, referring to the planned provincial route running west from Fort Erie, south of Hamilton, and then into Halton region.

Rowat, president of the Railway Association of Canada, told a luncheon audience it makes sense to invest public money in new rail infrastructure. Rowat was speaking yesterday to the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce transportation committee.

Three provinces away, chief executive Robert Ritchie of Canadian Pacific Railway was telling the Calgary chamber the same thing. He said "environmental benefits of rail are too significant to ignore." Transportation Minister David Collenette has said more money should be spent on rail.

Both men made their comments as Ottawa is about to roll out a new federal blueprint on national transportation strategies. But spending on transportation is likely to take a back seat to other priorities, such as health care, innovation, and urban renewal.

What intensifies the rail-versus-highway debate is the Kyoto Protocol, with nations pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rowat said in his speech that more rail usage would help lower greenhouse gases. He said rail traffic is up 30 per cent since 1990 but trains produce 3.5 per cent fewer emissions than a decade ago.

The railway system argues that putting more freight and passengers on trains would ease highway chaos and take trucks and cars off the roads. Railways claim they move 40 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product.

Hamilton economic development director, Neil Everson, said highway gridlock in and around Toronto is a plus for Hamilton. The longer it takes to go there, the more likely businesses will relocate elsewhere.

Rowat, whose group represents 57 rail companies in Canada, said 100 million tonnes diverted to rail is the equivalent of three million truckloads. A 100-car freight train can take up to 280 trucks off the road. He argued for more trackage, more money for rail crossings and new terminals to increase truck-to-train shipments.

Rowat provided no estimates of the amount of public money needed to make a serious difference. In the United States, the government is talking about more than $200 billion US going to transportation infrastructure, including rail and highways.

High-speed trains are part of the U.S. strategy. Canadian multinational Bombardier thinks high-speed rail could be a factor in a dozen U.S. corridors. The Quebec and New York state governments have talked of a high-speed link between Montreal and New York.

Even so, governments continue to promote highway links, even in an era of so-called smart growth. Cities like to develop along highway frontage, not along rail lines. Factories use trucks to do most of their short-haul, just-in-time runs.

Dennis Bradley, head of the Ontario Trucking Association, didn't attend yesterday's speech. He agreed in an interview that intermodal traffic -- via truck and train terminals -- is on the rise.

"But what people have to understand is it's a niche market ... truck and rail are only co-operating on about 10 per cent of the market."

While it is true that trucks play a role in highway congestion, commuters in cars make up most of the gridlock, said Bradley. And it would be tough to eliminate truck deliveries in major urban cities.

One area in which there is general agreement -- among truckers, the rail industry, the chamber of commerce movement, and others -- is the need for Ottawa to reinvest a portion of dedicated fuel taxes back into the transportation system.

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