Monday, February 26, 2007

High-speed train route is first step

High-speed train route is first step
February 26, 2007
Brendan D. MacDonald

Now that we have made the environment a priority issue for policy-makers it is time to embark on concrete solutions to tackle the emissions contributing to climate change. Transportation accounts for a majority of the carbon dioxide emissions in our society, but few of us would be willing to give up the convenience of quick and easy travel from point A to point B in the name of reducing our emissions. So how can we maintain the current level of speed and convenience without burning copious amounts of fossil fuels? The answer: High-speed trains.

Although the average population density across Canada is not sufficient to support high-speed trains, there are regions within Canada that could comfortably support them. The best example is the "corridor" between Windsor and Quebec City. Most of this route follows Highway 401, which happens to carry the most traffic of any highway in North America. Not only would a high-speed train route along the corridor displace cars travelling along the 401, but we would also reduce the amount of flights between cities along the route such as Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Short flights between these cities are the worst for carbon dioxide emissions because planes burn most of their fuel during takeoff and landing.

The high-speed trains Canadians love to ride when travelling in Europe are powered by electricity. The beauty of operating our transportation system on electricity is the flexibility available for its source. We can generate electricity from any number of carbon dioxide free sources, including hydro, wind, solar, and, yes, even nuclear.

It seems that as we get more educated about nuclear power we are starting to realize that it may not be as evil as we once believed.

The convenience of high-speed trains is something that cannot be overlooked. VIA Rail currently operates train service along the corridor, but it is underutilized. The trains we have now run on diesel fuel and they are sluggish compared to their modern-day counterparts.

If the tracks are upgraded and converted to allow for electric trains, we could install trains that run at speeds around 350 km/h and could compete with planes for quick travel between cities. These track upgrades would also provide jobs, and a high-speed train route would serve as an incentive to expand local mass transit systems. There would also be the potential for increased tourism to the region.

It is likely that we will need many different approaches to tackle the climate change problem.

What we need to do is start right now with proven technologies and concrete solutions such as high-speed train routes.

Brendan D. MacDonald is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at the University of Victoria, and a member of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems.
Many people argue that we are not Europe, and with our country being so vast, it the comparison is not reasonable. This dissenting view is only true if we're looking at travel from Toronto to Vancouver. With railways paralleling almost every major highway in Ontario, high speed passenger rail is a no-brainer if we want to reduce congestion along the medium-distance (around 600 km or less) inter-city corridors.

Major airports are usually found on the edge of cities, simply because that's the only place where space is available. Anyone wanting to get to the financial centre of the city must make their way to the airport on the outskirts, fly to their destination, then make the trip into the city to get to their final destination. These secondary trips eat up valuable time, and don't even get me started on airport security.

Driving to and from neighboring cities is often less expensive and more convenient than flying, but it precludes the traveller from accomplishing anything along the way. Add to that the unpredictable nature of congestion, and it quickly becomes frustrating and unproductive.

High-Speed Rail is the only method of travel from city-centre to city-centre that is relatively unobstructed. It is much less frustrating than driving, and when implemented correctly, can be as fast as flying. It's no solution to transcontinental travel, but for the Qu├ębec to Windsor corridor and the Calgary to Edmonton corridor, a 300 km/h train can move people faster and more efficiently than any other method.

My vision for a High-Speed Rail network for the corridor isn't just bullet trains barreling down the line between here and the nation's capital. It's a transit plan that covers all the bases.

High speed trains using the newest and fastest equipment providing express service between Toronto & Montreal, between Toronto & Ottawa, and between Ottawa & Montreal. This line will compete with the airlines, and offer first class amenities. Top speeds will be greater than 300 km/h. In the TGV network, the success of the Thalys (pictured right) allowed Air France to simply buy train tickets for their Brussels to Paris passengers. The newest french TGV trains can even top 550 km/h, making it possible to commute daily between Montreal and Toronto. Any name for the service would have to be a French word, as things sound much faster and more luxurious in French.

High speed local service will make the stops and follow the routes that VIVA currently makes in the corridor. Some routes will be electrified, and will either use TGV style trainsets, or high speed locomotives pulling standard coaches (like the Amtrak HHP-8, pictured right). Routes which are not electrified will use Bombardier's Jet Train technology - a 5000 HP gas turbine locomotive pulling regular coaches. The added speed will decrease the travel times and increase customer satisfaction.

For the many existing lines which don't have service, modern interurban service will be introduced. Using Bombardier TALENT (pictured left) or other diesel multiple unit trains, these routes will stop at every community along the tracks. This will give people living in more rural parts of the corridor access to railway connections.

Finally, auto train service should be offered, where passengers can drive their cars onto railway cars, get a comfortable seat aboard the train, then drive off when they reach their destinations. Such services have been successful in Europe and in North America, and even operate in the Channel Tunnel.

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