I agree. As much as it pains to say, I believe the Canadian should be cancelled at the end of the current fleet's life. For the time being, investment should be focused in high density corridors. We have so much catching up to do and that needs to take priority.Those who say “surely CN/CP can fit one or two trains per day on their busy freight lines” have a very outdated or unrealistic view of the current freight infrastructure.
The problem in a nutshell is how to overtake a slower freight train. Meeting opposing trains is relatively benign.
Even on a double-tracked line such as the Kingston Sub, there is clearly a limit to how much overtaking can happen. On single track, the limits are magnified. The amount of investment needed to solve overtaking between Vancouver and Halifax is gigantic - easily $200M or more in added sidings and double track. All of which then has an incremental operating cost. In aggregate, it’s as if we are building a new railway line 100 miles or more in length…… for only one or two passenger trains per day.
One has to appreciate also that the passenger load on a long distance passenger train is roughly in the range of a single Q400 or B737. Does it make sense to spend that money just for one planeload of capacity? Any difference in carbon and fuel expenditure is trivial in the grand scheme of things.
While I fault CN and CP for dragging their feet at lengthening sidings even sufficiently to operate long freights efficiently, I can’t fault a strategy of trying to run “the hard way” and then only investing the bare minimum to bring capacity up to the required level. That’s a very businesslike way to manage capital. CN in particular has acknowledged that it undershot its capacity, and has clearly made improvements, and is making more. Even with that course correction, the overtaking challenge will never go away. There is no business case for government to invest to achieve it.
I can justify investing in a Maritime network because a) the job creation value to the Maritimes is as good as any other infrastructure project down that way and b) on a buikd-it-and-they-will-come premise, it could be a stimulus to development and tourism and c) those freight lines have much more capacity available, and a “mixed” freight/passenger operation could be viable for several decades. The prairies are a different - only Alberta has the combination of population and moderate distance (allowing the overtaking problem to be solved economically) to make an investment possible. While Edmonton- Calgary-Banff gets all the attention as potentially running close to break even, I would argue that even that investment ought to include mixed operations to Lethbridge and Prince Albert to improve the ridership catchment area and value delivered for any subsidy.
I just stepped off #2 on Canada Day. Ridership was good, service was great, and passenger experience was consistently positive. Nobody minded the slow pace, and (compared to past trips) the assurance of on time arrival removed anxiety compared to a faster schedule that wasn’t being met. So it still works for liesure travel, although the equipment probably only has a few years of life remaining. I would love to see VIA run more times per week, but its equipment utilization is likely maxxed out, and there are still empty berths on the existing trains.
We were two hours ahead of schedule at Brechin…. but running third in a fleet of four southbound trains that encountered a fleet of three freight trains coming north. Even with double track down from Settler, we crawled to Doncaster. I can’t see an investment strategy that would prevent that kind of impediment to VIA..
So, all in all, we need to exorcise any memory of what rail transportation was in the past from our thinking and build for the future, not to recreate the past. There’s enough nostalgia to go around.
On a related note, I am similarly unconvinced of the potential of Vancouver Island rail compared to coach busses. I was wondering what people here thought of the potential of that service.