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Chrétien Liberals had plan for fast rail: report

Hydrogen

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Chrétien Liberals had plan for fast rail: report

$2.6-billion project for fleet of intercity trains cancelled by Martin government, ex-VIA boss said

BY MIKE DE SOUZA

A newly released confidential report about speeding up Canada's passenger rail service made a series of recommendations that could have been completed by today if it had not been lost in the transition between the Liberal governments of former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

The plan, obtained by Canwest News Service, projected substantial short-term improvements, including a new fleet of 200-km/h inter-

city trains, and a link to one of the country's biggest airports.

At a cost of $2.6 billion over five years, the "VIAFast" plan from 2002 would have introduced faster service between Quebec City and Windsor, Ont., while building new tracks that would reduce congestion for both passenger and freight trains.

"This exciting project, to be realized over a period of 4-5 years, will radically change the role of passenger and freight rail in Canada's transportation industry," said the report -- marked "strictly confidential" that was produced by VIA Rail. "The investment will produce a positive return to all parties and will give the country a more robust, secure transportation system."

The VIAFast plan, which was spiked by the Martin government, would have allowed passengers to travel from Toronto to Ottawa in two hours and 15 minutes, and then from Ottawa to Montreal in one hour and 15 minutes. The Montreal-Quebec City trip time would be reduced by nearly half to two hours, while a Toronto-Windsor trip would be down to three hours and 20 minutes.

The former head of VIA Rail, Jean Pelletier, in an interview published by Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil after his death, blamed Martin for cancelling VIAFast and other infrastructure investments announced by the outgoing Chrétien government.

Other anticipated benefits included: The creation of 40,000 jobs during construction and 1,700 jobs during operation, a reduction in annual traffic equivalent to taking one million cars off the roads in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, fewer serious road accidents and deaths, a new rail link from downtown Montreal to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, annual savings of $125 million for VIA Rail, and annual savings of up to $200 million as a result of reduced maintenance and traffic from cars and trucks taken off the road and replaced by passenger and freight trains.

VIA Rail also predicted in 2002 that its plan would reduce Canada's annual fuel consumption by 262 million litres and lower greenhouse gas emissions by 824,000 tonnes per year.

But Paul Côté, the Crown corporation's president and chief executive officer, explained that it has now adopted an incremental approach to achieve elements of the plan, one step at a time, through new investments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

"In the end, if VIAFast had been implemented, we still believe that we would have been able to achieve those (estimates) that had been listed in the document in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, car traffic and so on and so forth," said Côté in an interview. "But at this particular juncture, we would have to identify specific benefits based on the incremental approach that we are taking now."

Pelletier, the former head of VIA Rail, told Le Soleil he had reached deals with freight rail companies to launch VIAFast, but those plans were spiked by Martin.

Martin's supporters, along with opposition MPs from the Canadian Alliance, were highly critical of new investments for VIA Rail announced during the last days of the Chrétien government in 2003.

Recent multimillion-dollar announcements of infrastructure investments between Montreal and Toronto were all part of the original plan to eliminate traffic congestion conflicts between freight and passenger trains that often cause delays on VIA Rail's schedule, said Côté.

"We've used the VIAFast blueprint as the style to move forward," said Côté.

A Transport Canada official estimated last spring that the current infrastructure plan will help reduce the passenger train trip between Montreal and Toronto to three-and-a-half hours, which is the same time estimated in the VIAFast document.

The Harper government said it did its own analysis of proposals on the table, and has worked to accommodate VIA Rail's infrastructure needs.

"While we didn't take VIAFast, the program the Liberals were asked (to approve) in 2002, and then did nothing with for four years, what we have done is work with VIA to provide the necessary components that they need to improve passenger rail service," said Chris Hilton, a spokesperson for Junior Transport Minister Rob Merrifield.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Chrétien+Liberals+plan+fast+rail+report/1874816/story.html
 

mjl08

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Then again, Chretien also had a "plan" for universal childcare, a New Deal for Cities and GST cuts.
 

Whoaccio

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In all fairness to Martin, these end of term proposals are usually canceled because they are more electioneering than policy. The fact is that by 2003, there was a de facto race between Martin and Chretien for leadership of the Liberal party with both of them promising all manner of goodies. As such, proposals like ViaFast should be taken with a grain of salt like most other electioneering. Especially with something like an HSR which would likely require a great deal of negotiation between Quebec, Ontario, Canada, the relevant municipalities, pseudo public entities (like VIA and the ADM) and rail companies. Chretien certainly didn't move to advance HSR following the 1995 joint report between most of those, so a proposal in the midst of his competition with Martin probably wasn't a guarantee anyways.
 

ShonTron

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Martin, when he ran Canada Steamship Lines, also owned Voyageur Bus Lines, a competitor to VIA Rail. It is rather sad that the Harper government has been better to VIA than the Martin government.

VIA Fast was announced at the conclusion of the VIA Renaissance program of refurbishing stations, the purchase and modification of the Nightstar fleet, and the purchase of the P42 locomotives. The timing is a bit suspect, but the cancellation of VIA Fast was practically the first thing Martin did upon taking office.
 

Dilla

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From what I can put together in the article, Toronto to Montreal would be 3.5 hours with VIAFast, at best. That seems a fairly insignificant improvement over the current express train speed of four hours.
 

Hydrogen

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In the pre-Porter days, if you consider the trip out to Pearson, the wait time once there, the actual flight time to Montreal and the commute time to downtown Montreal, the improvements to VIA would have been a significant improvement.
 

kEiThZ

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^ Exactly: 1/2 hour from downtown to Pearson (at best) + 1 hour prior check-in requirement + 1 hour flight + 1/4 hour post-flight + 1/2 hour transit to the core in Ottawa or Montreal = 3.25 hours at best. In reality closer to about 4 hours. If VIA could simply tie that they would be the preferred choice because travel by train offers more productive time.
 

Northern Magus

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It's really sad that almost everything was Martin's #1 priority ... except for projects like this that would have really made a difference. Bono would be pretty disappointed.

It just makes me miss the Chretien days more and more. The elimination of the deficit, ten straight years of surpluses and debt reduction, the Clarity Act, Same Sex Marriage, staying out of Iraq, Kyoto, Canada being declared cool by the Economist. This would have been a solid part of that legacy -- and undoubtedly very popular. And it definitely was not "electioneering", Whoaccio: Chretien wasn't running again, remember?

More to the point: 200+ kph trains would be (and would have been) a great addition to this corridor. This plan would probably have provided a huge boost to Ottawa's tourism too. With the world's crude reserves at the halfway point and prices looking to rebound to $150+/barrel, high speed (electric) rail is our future.

Unfortunately for us, that future is still distant.
 

Whoaccio

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^
There was a leadership struggle for the Liberal Party itself. That much is common knowledge. And yes, there was a de facto campaign within the Liberal party between Martin and Chretien with Paul Martin openly campaigning against him after Chretien turfed him (or he left) from Cabinet. There was going to be an election at the following leadership review, but when it became clear the majority of the caucus supported Martin, Chretien resigned.

It's also common knowledge that policies proposed in that kind of atmosphere are never taken seriously.
 

Northern Magus

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Whoaccio, you might want to check your dates and facts. I think they're a little off.

Chretien and Martin campaigned against each other for the leadership ... in 1990. Chretien won. Martin started re-organizing against him after 2001 and took control of the Liberal party machinery. Once the machinery was clinched, the coup was all but complete. There was no "electioneering" by Chretien. At the time of this plan, Chretien was not campaigning: Chretien was resigning from politics and there was still two years left in the government's mandate. An election was not required until 2005, and Chretien sure wasn't running in it. Nor was he running in the leadership convention that his retirement had triggered.

This is not comparable to the Mulroney government selling off Pearson while on its way out the door. It's actually like Mike Harris funding the cultural renaissance of the ROM, AGO, National Ballet, and Opera House shortly before he resigned and passed the baton to Ernie Eves. In fact, this project is something that Ontario and Quebec have been clamouring for for 20 years, and the beneficiaries would have been a Crown Corporation and the millions of Canadians who live along this corridor.

It would have been a serious upgrade to Canadian rail travel, and it would have been a very solid legacy.
 

Second_in_pie

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It's really sad that almost everything was Martin's #1 priority ... except for projects like this that would have really made a difference. Bono would be pretty disappointed.

It just makes me miss the Chretien days more and more. The elimination of the deficit, ten straight years of surpluses and debt reduction, the Clarity Act, Same Sex Marriage, staying out of Iraq, Kyoto, Canada being declared cool by the Economist. This would have been a solid part of that legacy -- and undoubtedly very popular. And it definitely was not "electioneering", Whoaccio: Chretien wasn't running again, remember?

More to the point: 200+ kph trains would be (and would have been) a great addition to this corridor. This plan would probably have provided a huge boost to Ottawa's tourism too. With the world's crude reserves at the halfway point and prices looking to rebound to $150+/barrel, high speed (electric) rail is our future.

Unfortunately for us, that future is still distant.
Agreed. Especially the last paragraph. Electric High Speed rail really is the most logical means of intercity transportation, especially when oil peaks. Remember, Jet Fuel uses oil as well, and rising oil prices will almost make plane rides a luxury, and we should really be saving that remaining resource for things that are harder for HSR to accomplish, like cross and inter continental flights.

There are three things that need to happen: High Speed Rail in needed corridors, continuous expansion of all rail services, and electrification of basically the entire system. All of these things should be starting right now, because if we aren't ready for what the future brings, we'll be headed straight for the bottom.
 

DavidJamesTO

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Just to change the subject for a second, I'm not sure why the press is treating this as a new story never previously reported. This was reported quite widely at the time--it's rather old news, really.
 

Brandon716

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Interesting historical perspective. There are a lot of what-could-have-been's around, but one thing that is certain is the values espoused by the current government isn't quite like the Chretien era.
 

kEiThZ

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Interesting historical perspective. There are a lot of what-could-have-been's around, but one thing that is certain is the values espoused by the current government isn't quite like the Chretien era.

On this file, the Harper Conservatives have put in more into VIA than either Martin or Chretien.
 

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