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VIA Rail

Darwinkgo

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No, they wanted to save a buck. The country was fixated on cutting the deficit. Now we are left with the mess. It should not only come from the taxpayers. It should also come from the shareholders of CN and CP.
And we all saved a buck, as taxpayers. The removal and not upgrading of passing sidings cited above came when? When CN was still solidly a crown corp no? Heavily implied it was before the LRC era. Our government decided that it did not want to invest in passenger rail. What you're really complaining about isn't the policy as a whole, which has been widely successful, but focused results in very specific areas that the government of the day did not prioritize for passengers. The policy has been good for Canada - volume up and costs down (including for shippers).

Were there a few lines that would have been useful to keep in hindsight? Maybe? Namely the subs that are now looked at for HFR. Most of those were never maintained to the standard needed for modern VIA service though - not since the immediately after WWII. Modifying corridors to allow more freight through double stacking, but with fewer double tracked sections - should that have been prevented to maintain train frequency? Should we have invested for 30, 40, 50 years to make something just a smidgen cheaper today? Certainly not on an NPV basis.

The facts are despite the frustrations of some, it can be better to rip something out and replace it, especially if you get decades of cost savings in between. Should the government have maintained and upgraded the systems for the Turbo priority? I can get behind that - seems a low relative cost compared to all the other fanciful ideas about how the system should have been run differently forever.
 

Darwinkgo

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Say someone offers Via but they want to end the western routes and just have the Windsor-Quebec would people outwest not feel the Feds turned there back on them.
Privatize the corridor in that circumstance. Mandate minimum service standards, regulate a maximum rate of return (common in P3s these days, to avoid asset pricing problems). If they can do it, why should the government provide the service?

You can keep VIA elsewhere as a crown, and deal with it as a different matter. It isn't like VIA is a viable transportation option for cross Canada routes. It would be missed sure - it is probably bemoaned in Calgary a bit. Where it is an essential service (northern Ontario, northern BC), VIA or another entity could maintain a service focused on serving those who need that service. Calgary's route was privatized and turned into the Rocky Mountaineer - which I don't even think comes into the city anymore! I doubt more than 1 out of 1000 would know that or care.
 

crs1026

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^Some of the asset shedding dates from the Mulroney cuts in 1990. That may be stale beer at this point, but the trend line is consistent.

The cuts made by Tellier and Harrison happened in more recent days and harmed both the taxpayer and the railway shipper (and the communities that lost service or industries as a result, or saw freight shifted to trucks). Sure, the shareholders made out like bandits (I'm a minor CP and CN shareholder, btw - the dividends are nice) but there should have been more regulatory opposition particularly where passenger service was eroded.

VIA is most efficient as an integrated company. So long as the long distance trains remain, there is no gain for the taxpayer in splitting the corporate functions - two legal departments, two reservation systems, two maintenance organizations will not be cheaper than one. I suppose the White River service doesn't need online reservations, perhaps they could operate from an on board cash fare process.... but most others are most efficiently serviced from VIA corporate.

HFR will be a virtual privatized service, by virtue of having a banker and a promise to operate without subsidy (even if the taxpayer forgets about the latter, the bureaucrats won't). But no Board independence, and no legal mandate. Again, HFR will depend on a full set of corporate functions and will be only one competing client of these. I would be happier if there were such legislation, yes.... but be careful what you ask for. A VIA Board that doesn't have to cowtow to Ottawa, well....

I have a theory that if HFR proceeds in Alberta, or if a Banff passenger service is pursued, VIA may not be the operator.

HFR will continue to have a tenancy with CN in some critical places. I wonder by what mechanism VIA's rights and delivery performance will suddenly be better managed. I wonder how it can be so easy to clear the way under an HFR scenario when it is said to be so difficult under any other scenario? Has CN somehow seen the light? Is removing some of the trains from its Kingston line so compelling that it has found a new commitment to remove interference where HFR needs priority?

- Paul
 

Bordercollie

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But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.
 

roger1818

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But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.

The trains that remain on the old corridor will be, on average, substantially slower (because of more stops). As has been said before, it is the speed of the VIA trains that CN doesn't like.
 

Darwinkgo

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Have to temper the want for industrial spurs everywhere and lines serving them (the old way) with trucks for much regional in Canada freight movement with the adoption of time value of money approach and just in time delivery to inventory management by customers. Freight rail might be cheaper even from one industrial spur to the other, but if it takes 10x as long, the direct cost is not the only cost to the freight user. We’re bemoaning infrastructure loss here, but really we’re bemoaning the loss of another world which doesn’t exist anymore.
 

dowlingm

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@Darwinkgo you assert that there is no capacity for open access but then assert that the capacity was reduced to meet demand - which sounds like the definition of chutzpah.*

by contrast, the aviation industry exploded in size as the restrictions of regimes like Fifth Freedom were largely replaced by open skies regimes. Airports have had to expand in size and air traffic control systems in complexity. Who is to say that in an open access scenario that shippers couldn’t gain by being able to contract with an operator with capacity rather than the one who owns their branch but is overextended in respect of rolling stock.

* “Chutzpah is when a son kills his mother and father and asks the court at sentencing to show him mercy because he is an orphan.”
 

micheal_can

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This is the same debate we had many years ago about the 407 lets sell it and let a private company run and it look at us now.

It is under utilized, overpriced, and suffers subpar construction.

As of 1970, there was capacity for both freight and passenger in Canada, and the two coexisted reasonably well. Technological change combined with railways' pruning their assets is what has made passenger service more difficult. The perfect example is the Kingston Sub - when CN procured the Turbos, they also installed CTC with sidings every 20-30 miles, specifically to allow the faster passenger trains to overtake freights by shifting the freights into the sidings. Over the last 50 years, freight trains outgrew the sidings, so CN removed them.... and then CN walked back its commitment to expedite the Turbo and its LRC successor.

The article makes a valid point that European freight has been constrained by a rigid passenger train template. Here, the pendulum was swung in exactly the opposite direction, and just as far over..... freight productivity has been pursued without regard for preserving passenger capability. That's an equally harmful result. There is no reason to believe that we will make the same mistake if we try to land somewhere in the middle.

Some of the promotion of freight productivity was appropriate and probably unavoidable - for example, removing cabooses from freight trains changed operating procedures in ways that impacted passenger operations.... and no one is arguing to put back the caboose. Safety standards have demanded investment - moderate to heavy passenger train operation over unsignalled lines is not longer acceptable. The point is, the people who have been overseeing the infrastructure for the last 50 years have not taken an evenhanded approach to expediting passenger and freight. They have allowed the passenger side to be sacrificed for the freight side. And they allowed the railways to remove assets that should have been left in place and expanded as freight business grew. VIA is hamstrung by this lax regulation.

As for capacity, between Montreal and Toronto there is still plenty, but it is not leveraged in the most win-win manner. Leaving this alone, while spending public money on a sub optimal HFR configuration, is not the right solution.

- Paul

Now they have "over siding" trains that are one of the reasons the Canadian gets late. The reason they run those trains is because they can. This all goes back to the regulation. For example, they could simply have the regulation have priority given to passenger trains on scheduled service. It would tie CN and CP's hands and force them to restore that which they removed decades ago.

Say someone offers Via but they want to end the western routes and just have the Windsor-Quebec would people outwest not feel the Feds turned there back on them.

You mean like how CP left the Maritimes? The problem is Via has made everything outside of the Corridor irrelevant. They could quietly end all of those other services and I doubt it would be noticed by most people.

And we all saved a buck, as taxpayers. The removal and not upgrading of passing sidings cited above came when? When CN was still solidly a crown corp no? Heavily implied it was before the LRC era. Our government decided that it did not want to invest in passenger rail. What you're really complaining about isn't the policy as a whole, which has been widely successful, but focused results in very specific areas that the government of the day did not prioritize for passengers. The policy has been good for Canada - volume up and costs down (including for shippers).

Were there a few lines that would have been useful to keep in hindsight? Maybe? Namely the subs that are now looked at for HFR. Most of those were never maintained to the standard needed for modern VIA service though - not since the immediately after WWII. Modifying corridors to allow more freight through double stacking, but with fewer double tracked sections - should that have been prevented to maintain train frequency? Should we have invested for 30, 40, 50 years to make something just a smidgen cheaper today? Certainly not on an NPV basis.

The facts are despite the frustrations of some, it can be better to rip something out and replace it, especially if you get decades of cost savings in between. Should the government have maintained and upgraded the systems for the Turbo priority? I can get behind that - seems a low relative cost compared to all the other fanciful ideas about how the system should have been run differently forever.

The native blockades showed CN and CP that their shortsightedness can bring their entire network to a standstill. To hear that ONR engineers had to ride along in a CN container train to get it up to the Val D'or area would have been unthinkable. At least they had an option. CP was stuck. Hopefully they are learning from this and we see some smarter ideas to increase profit besides cutting lines.

^Some of the asset shedding dates from the Mulroney cuts in 1990. That may be stale beer at this point, but the trend line is consistent.

The cuts made by Tellier and Harrison happened in more recent days and harmed both the taxpayer and the railway shipper (and the communities that lost service or industries as a result, or saw freight shifted to trucks). Sure, the shareholders made out like bandits (I'm a minor CP and CN shareholder, btw - the dividends are nice) but there should have been more regulatory opposition particularly where passenger service was eroded.

VIA is most efficient as an integrated company. So long as the long distance trains remain, there is no gain for the taxpayer in splitting the corporate functions - two legal departments, two reservation systems, two maintenance organizations will not be cheaper than one. I suppose the White River service doesn't need online reservations, perhaps they could operate from an on board cash fare process.... but most others are most efficiently serviced from VIA corporate.

HFR will be a virtual privatized service, by virtue of having a banker and a promise to operate without subsidy (even if the taxpayer forgets about the latter, the bureaucrats won't). But no Board independence, and no legal mandate. Again, HFR will depend on a full set of corporate functions and will be only one competing client of these. I would be happier if there were such legislation, yes.... but be careful what you ask for. A VIA Board that doesn't have to cowtow to Ottawa, well....

I have a theory that if HFR proceeds in Alberta, or if a Banff passenger service is pursued, VIA may not be the operator.

HFR will continue to have a tenancy with CN in some critical places. I wonder by what mechanism VIA's rights and delivery performance will suddenly be better managed. I wonder how it can be so easy to clear the way under an HFR scenario when it is said to be so difficult under any other scenario? Has CN somehow seen the light? Is removing some of the trains from its Kingston line so compelling that it has found a new commitment to remove interference where HFR needs priority?

- Paul

It is one thing when the government does stupid things to balance a budget. It is a whole other thing when stupid things are done to increase profits.

But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.

It may be more like it is no longer worth those minor upgrades. Freight trains do not travel beyond 60mph in Canada. Any improvements beyond that speed is a waste of money for the challenges that having Via on their line bring.

The trains that remain on the old corridor will be, on average, substantially slower (because of more stops). As has been said before, it is the speed of the VIA trains that CN doesn't like.

Even those slower trains will be a hassle in CN's eyes.

Have to temper the want for industrial spurs everywhere and lines serving them (the old way) with trucks for much regional in Canada freight movement with the adoption of time value of money approach and just in time delivery to inventory management by customers. Freight rail might be cheaper even from one industrial spur to the other, but if it takes 10x as long, the direct cost is not the only cost to the freight user. We’re bemoaning infrastructure loss here, but really we’re bemoaning the loss of another world which doesn’t exist anymore.

A time where roads were not beaten down by trucks. Here in Sudbury, 100 km is a magical number. If a haul truck travels more than 100 km, then it is more economical to use a train. Meanwhile, those at 99km are beating down the roads.

We have been racing to the bottom by selling off our infrastructure one piece at a time. Now, we have a mess. Someone can correct me on this, but, right now, we are running the oldest equipment ever for passenger service (RCDs) with no plan in replacement. Our roads are in a constant state of disrepair. And our available services are down. Governments do what is best more for the corporations and less for the citizens, regardless of political party.

Maybe this pandemic will change that. Likely not, but one could hope.
 

lenaitch

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The native blockades showed CN and CP that their shortsightedness can bring their entire network to a standstill. To hear that ONR engineers had to ride along in a CN container train to get it up to the Val D'or area would have been unthinkable. At least they had an option. CP was stuck. Hopefully they are learning from this and we see some smarter ideas to increase profit besides cutting lines.

How was that "unthinkable"? Running crews have to be qualified on routes even within their own company. The CN crews would have no clue about the ONR track geometry and likely couldn't communicate with anyone.

I wasn't aware that CP was impacted by the Desoronto blockade but could be mistaken. With civil disobedience like this, especially when solidarity is involved it can become a bit of a 'whack-a-mole'; they can pop up anywhere. Having alternate routes guarantees little.
 

Darwinkgo

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@Darwinkgo you assert that there is no capacity for open access but then assert that the capacity was reduced to meet demand - which sounds like the definition of chutzpah.*

by contrast, the aviation industry exploded in size as the restrictions of regimes like Fifth Freedom were largely replaced by open skies regimes. Airports have had to expand in size and air traffic control systems in complexity. Who is to say that in an open access scenario that shippers couldn’t gain by being able to contract with an operator with capacity rather than the one who owns their branch but is overextended in respect of rolling stock.

* “Chutzpah is when a son kills his mother and father and asks the court at sentencing to show him mercy because he is an orphan.”
Where was capacity cut where it is needed today, besides the lines slated for HFR? Lots of the rail removed served few customers. Commodity flows didn’t support the same lines as before. The needs of supply chains weren’t served well by once a week service anymore.

Demand can grow for certain services just as demand shrinks for other services. It isn’t a universal transform across the network.
 

Darwinkgo

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How much is it worth it to you to restore the secondary connection through northern Ontario to be more ready for a once every decade or so freight use? Like seriously, could jack up the shed in Winnipeg for way less than that and it would be more beneficial.
 

Urban Sky

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We can argue the micro implications of ownership etc. but ultimately, though not a lawyer, I do not see any reason why, if 20+ countries of the European Union could come up with a framework to separate infrastructure management and operations, and progressively widen the scope of open access arrangements, that similar arrangements could not be mandated for Canada.
The contrast between railroad infrastructure investments in Europe vs. North America is that if you want infrastructure investment to reflect the needs of the public rather than private interests, then the industry will start to expect that these funds come predominantly from public rather than private investors...

We won't even put VIA on a statutory footing still less introduce a weaksauce arrangement like PRIIA. Our principal freight operators are American companies in all but name and the provinces have little interest - both QC and ON stood by and watched while both options to route Ottawa area freight direct to the west were dismantled rather than be purchased into public hands, and the Sault area railways seem to be perpetually stuck in a state of new collapse as the feds dribble in a little money to stave off complete closure in lieu of a revitalization strategy.

Neither of the two major parties in Ontario, which has the financial wherewithal, not to mention two provincially owned rail concerns, to seize the initiative as certain States in the US like Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Maine have done, believe enough in regional rail to invest in it and in ensuring fullest use of existing and dismantled rail alignments.
Despite all deregulations, the freight rail infrastructure is still regulated to the point where the freight railroads have to publicly announce their intend to discontinue parts of their network and to allow any interested railroad - private or public - to buy it. Indeed, the non-interest of the three governments concerned (Ottawa, Ontario, Quebec) to acquire and thus preserve any continuous rail alignment west of Ottawa speaks volume about how little of a political priority rail infrastructure is...


If we want better passenger rail, we need to bite the bullet and build a dedicated corridor for that, where it make sense. Taking corridors away from CN or CP for passenger rail is an exercise in robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Exactly, you can't expect freight railroads to take a substantial share of the financial burden of providing performant passenger rail infrastructure when they hardly benefit their own (freight) operations!


I would take substantial issue with the linked article and its needlessly clickbaity headline, not least now that the observations about Asia-Europe demand have shifted substantially due to coronavirus impacts on air freight capacity, or that Europe necessarily must adopt the hostile American practice of not merely double stacking trains, making grade separation above lines more challenging, but also the ultra long trains which sever localities in half for tens of minutes at a time..
Despite the slightly exaggerated headline, the article is absolutely spot-on in almost every word - and that's me saying this as a fiercely patriotic European ("my country is Europe") who uses the EU-flag as a profile picture on Facebook! - as freight rail in Europe is almost as neglected as intercity passenger rail is in North America. Granted, the modal share of passenger rail (if we combine "Railway" and "Tram + metro") in the EU is almost 13 times that of the US (8.5% vs. 0.7% by passenger-km), but Europeans still drive 8.5 times the distance they cover by rail (market share of the "Passenger car" is 72.2% vs. 81.4% in the US). Conversely, the market share for rail freight in the United States is almost three times higher than in the EU (31.8% vs. 11.3%, by ton-km) and might actually surpass the road as the dominant mode with the right sets of incentives (road freight market share 40.6% in the US vs. 50.2% in the EU):
1608175273184.png

Source: Transport in Figures - Statistical Pocketbook 2019


Nevertheless, two performant freight rail corridors have been built in Europe - one is the Kiruna-Narvik rail corridor mentioned in aforementioned article which has been upgraded to support axle loads similar to those in North America:
That said, Blaze pointed out to how commercial necessity has helped transform a Scandinavian railway line running within Norwegian and Swedish borders to carry around 30 metric tonnes on each axle load, unlike the regular 20 to 23 metric tonnes that is carried in the other parts of Europe.

[...]

“Increasing the axle loads meant an increase of loads per car by 20%. Though it had to increase the track maintenance budget by roughly 20%, the railway had lower crew costs, lower engine costs and lower equipment costs because it was getting much better utilization of the equipment. This led to a 28-30% net increase in savings for the movement of the iron ore,” said Blaze.

The more interestingly, however, is the Betuweroute, a dedicated freight railroad (linking Europe’s largest port in Rotterdam with the German border) built with double-tracks, completely grade-separated and with a vertical clearance to allow double-stacking of containers:
1608177337536.png


Unfortunately, the second example highlights the misery of freight rail in Europe, as the line's potential is all but lost at the German border, beyond which freight trains are subject to the same rail capacity shortages, limited vertical clearances, technological borders (legacy electricity and train control systems rather than unified standards) and low-priority treatment which suppresses freight railroading across the continent. The closing paragraphs of the article @roger1818 posted describe the same under-investment and political disinterest in providing a performant freight rail infrastructure in Europe, which plagues the passenger rail mode on this side of the Ocean:
Going by this instance, it can be gathered that what was done in Scandinavia can be replicated by the German Deutsche Bahn or Swiss Rail. Europe failing to take an interest in bolstering its freight railway system eventually boils down to the lack of incentive. Respective countries run their share of Europe’s railway network and have not allowed the rail sector to be privatized like in North America.

In essence, it is about time Europe addresses the elephant in the room. For the EU, the equation is simple – increase capital expenditures on its aging railway system and look to take volume from a maritime market that looks particularly vulnerable today.



The more pertinent issue for this thread is the notion that, as you assert passenger rail needs a dedicated corridor as a condition of improved service, with the obvious implication that passenger rail must pay all of the absurdly inflated cost of modern construction while rail freight merely gets to keep and maintain what it owns, having been previously been relieved of the requirement to provide said service and only having to tolerate a public agency doing so.
Open access assumes there is network capacity. There isn't. With a bunch of investment that will be needed over the next 30 years for freight capacity, a bunch of network capacity that isn't needed for freight will be created. And the rail roads won't be able to pay for it by themselves. That is the time to remake the arrangement - securing room for intercity rail in exchange for massive subsidy where the railways only pay for the extra capacity they use and in exchange must provide access to others on the same cost basis to their current network. It is the only way that will be compliant with our trade agreements, good for the country, and good for VIA. Now we just need to figure out how to get from today to there.
The issue is not capacity (at least not on double-tracked rail corridors like the Kingston Sub): You could easily double the number of freight and of passenger trains operating if they operated at a comparable average speed. Whereas some VIA services do run at average speeds comparable with freight trains (54.7 mph in the case of the morning commuter train #651), you do need to reach significantly higher average speeds if you want to be competitive against the car, bus and the plane and that's why intercity rail is the type of rail traffic which is the by far most likely to be constrained by the speed limits imposed by the horizontal alignment (curves) - and that's why a dedicated infrastructure is usually built for that rail traffic type, whereas regional rail and freight rail may co-exist quite well (thanks to their much more similar average speeds).
 
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micheal_can

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How was that "unthinkable"? Running crews have to be qualified on routes even within their own company. The CN crews would have no clue about the ONR track geometry and likely couldn't communicate with anyone.

I wasn't aware that CP was impacted by the Desoronto blockade but could be mistaken. With civil disobedience like this, especially when solidarity is involved it can become a bit of a 'whack-a-mole'; they can pop up anywhere. Having alternate routes guarantees little.

Basically, the ONR crew were there because they know the track and their radios can talk with the rest of the ONR. Physically driving the train were CN crews.

AFAIK, they blocked both at the same area.

How much is it worth it to you to restore the secondary connection through northern Ontario to be more ready for a once every decade or so freight use? Like seriously, could jack up the shed in Winnipeg for way less than that and it would be more beneficial.

The ones I am suggesting are the ones through the Ottawa Valley. The fact that both CN and CP had lines through there and now, they can easily be crippled by one blockade. Who would think that's a good idea?
 

Darwinkgo

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The ones I am suggesting are the ones through the Ottawa Valley. The fact that both CN and CP had lines through there and now, they can easily be crippled by one blockade. Who would think that's a good idea?
Ottawa didn’t have the freight demand to continue to justify a high level of service (decline of lumber, pulp and paper businesses) and western Canada —> Montreal demand is far less than when the lines were put in. CN and CP removed almost 60 million tonnes of grain from the prairies this year. In its heyday most of that grain would go to Montreal by train to be loaded in ships. Last year it was less than 1 million tonnes. The Seaway took a whole lot of that demand which is bound for the Atlantic basin - 7.9 million tonnes from Thunder Bay, with about 6.7 million tonnes on Sea going lakers.

And yeah, redundancies, resiliency, the cost is worth it for high probability events. A few days every decade isn’t a huge deal imo. A few days a month I think we’d think differently. But in that case I’d bet there’d be enough organization to block every possible route.
 

roger1818

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The ones I am suggesting are the ones through the Ottawa Valley. The fact that both CN and CP had lines through there and now, they can easily be crippled by one blockade. Who would think that's a good idea?

Actually, if you go back to the 70's, CN had two lines through the Ottawa Valley (the OAPS, inherited from the Grand Trunk Railway and the other, built by the Canadian Northern Railway). In 1983, CN abandoned the former OAPS line between Renfrew and Whitney. There is an excellent online publication of the history of the railways in Eastern Ontario with maps by Brian Gilhuly, called Tracing the Lines. My only wish is it extended a bit further east (the maps end around Barry's Bay). Interestingly, the peak seems to have been between 1923 and 1953.

I do have some sympathy for this sentiment though. Operating independently it didn't make financial sense for either CN or CP maintain both their corridors through the Ottawa Valley, and their corridors along the lakeshore. Given the choice to keep just one, the lakeshore wins hands down. However, if the railways were required to work more cooperatively and do even more track sharing than they currently do, sharing a corridor along the lakeshore and a corridor through the Ottawa Valley might be a financially viable option. Even if this had happened, there would still be issues between Ottawa/Smiths Falls and Montreal if your objective is to give VIA dedicated track on all sides of the TOM triangle while still maintaining freight capacity. No point crying over spilt milk though.
 

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