jazz: Take the train, eh?
By WILLIAM THORSELL
December 2, 2002 - Print Edition, Page A19, Toronto Globe and Mail
business trip to Montreal from Toronto starts with a call to the limousine
service to arrange a car to the airport in the morning. "What time
is your flight, sir?" says the wonderful woman on the telephone,
who knows you well from too many such conversations. "The rain
in Spain falls mainly on the plane at 8 a.m.," we joke, referring
to the alleged time of departure. "We'll be at your house at 6:15,"
she says with lugubrious finality.
been through this before. To be ready by 6:15, we set the alarm for
5:15, knowing that 10 minutes will be lost in denial, 15 minutes by
grabbing instant coffee, 10 minutes by standing bovine in the shower,
10 by shaving and applying deodorant twice, eight minutes throwing on
a regulation suit, four minutes to arrange a briefcase, and three minutes
to find the front door in the early morning gloom.
to Pearson airport is a video game of darts and dashes, evasions and
shortcuts, to avoid the inevitable "troubles" on the freeway
that make things "busy," in the euphemism of the radio reporter.
Today, another tractor-trailer has tipped over on a strategic ramp,
dumping gravel across the road.
to the airport can take 30 minutes, or 75 minutes, on the roulette of
Toronto's freeways. The only thing worse than getting there just in
time is getting there far too early: You could have slept another half
the airport, you line up, shut up, put up and give up, hoping that the
thing leaves on time. Arriving in Montreal, you get into one of those
odd, 1986 Peugeots they call taxis, crunch into the back seat and crawl
through the morning rush hour toward your goal. At 10 a.m., you schlep
into the meeting five hours tired, manhandled, searched and ogled. By
4 p.m., you know it will all begin again in reverse -- another high-flying
business day of travel from hell.
knows all about the pleasures of trains. You stroll through a busy city-centre
station onto the solid, comfortable train, settling into a capacious
seat, opening the paper and requesting a caffe latte as the north shore
of Lake Ontario rolls by.
Five hours later, after a bit of paperwork, an hour daydreaming and
a tiny nap, you stride off the train into the Queen Elizabeth Hotel
and walk over to your meeting, composed.
By 4 p.m., you are yukking it up at an elegant bar in Place Ville Marie
before boarding the evening special to Toronto, with a decent meal and
a good book. By 9, you are strolling onto Front Street to grab a cab
for the short hop to home.
beat planes for travel in every way except speed over long distances.
Between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, trains are very close to matching
planes in speed -- and the difference could be resolved by relatively
minor upgrades in tracks and equipment on the rails. And then we could
get our dignity back as travellers, rescued by these wonderfully humane
conveyances called trains.
arithmetic of train travel suggests that passenger trains should be
eliminated because they require "subsidies" to stay on the
tracks. But simple arithmetic is too simple by half. The expensive externalities
of road and air traffic are nowhere near reflected in the price of using
roads and airports. True-cost accounting of passenger train travel in
and among highly urbanized areas would give trains a far better reputation
than they currently enjoy.
Paul Bedford, Toronto's chief city planner, observes with impeccable
logic that Toronto will not see more major freeways in its future. There
is neither space nor political will to build them. Beyond expensive
subways, then, commuter trains to satellite towns offer the only sensible
answer to explosive congestion -- trains that operate with high capacity
at extended hours. The cheapest -- perhaps only -- way to effectively
add freeway capacity in the Toronto megalopolis is to expand the network
and intensity of commuter trains.
is the federal minister for Toronto and speaks passionately about the
power of trains to bring sense to our community life. Doing so, he runs
up against the simple arithmeticians who can't see the externalities
for the "subsidies" or the subsidies for the roads and air
point, we have to get beyond the line-by-line computations and text-book
lessons and look at the world as it is, clogged in a canyon of roads
and airports. Salvation is the virile train. Having learned to count,
we need to learn to take account -- and count again.
Thorsell is director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum.