Trade routes have been essential in North America since before European settlement. Traditionally the quickest most efficient methods were adopted, from swift bark skinned canoes, to sailing vessels, canals and railroads. The second steamship service was founded by Molson’s on the St Lawrence River, it saved time in moving beer to market and supplies to soldiers defending Canada in the War of 1812. Canadian railroads started in the 1830s allowing the economy to flourish and this continent wide nation to unite. Canadians and their predecessors in this territory were always quick to adopt cutting edge technology in transportation, agriculture or industry.
What happened to Canadians adopting innovations? This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Japan’s Shinkansen network, the TGV in France turns thirty-three this year, the rest of Europe is rapidly adding high-speed rail lines. Russia has high-speed rail in a climate similar to ours and in far more territory, China’s ambitious plans include connecting Beijing to Moscow; Beijing to Vienna; Beijing to Singapore; and a few other long routes. China also has jumped from traditional High-speed rail to MagLev (Magnetic Levitation) which reduces friction, increases safety and speeds. Yet, in Ontario the mere suggestion has people complaining about cost, a “war on cars”, pipe dreams and ignorance. If Ontario is open for business then it should take less than twenty years to decide on an infrastructure project.
Rail is essential for an advanced economy while road is inefficient, resource intense, wasteful and primitive. Each freight car on a train translates to two transport trucks or one truck wrecking the road by being overweight. Passenger cars each translate into two or three buses or dozens of cars. Roads take up more space than rail lines and are more environmentally destructive by using hydrocarbons to pave and creating more erosion. Canada’s rail network is so lacking farmers are losing money because they can’t get grain to market, removing passenger service from freight tracks will increase the capacity a little. Removing vehicles from the road will reduce the amount of crude being put on trains.
Adopting high-speed rail is not just a means to deal with the natural climate that is changing but also the corresponding changes in the geopolitical climate. Droughts, famines, ocean level rises, larger, more frequent storms and people displaced from them could destabilize our home world. All resources are finite, when they become more finite war breaks out and those wasting them on luxury are the prime targets for invasion, terrorism and extermination. By continuing Ontario’s resource intense lifestyle we paint a bullseye on ourselves. High-speed rail is part of being better managers of our scarce resources, the resources saved could go to help other areas of our weak economy. Many of the developing countries and Indigenous people are calling our wasteful lifestyle a process of genocide against them by consuming resources they need to mitigate climate change damage.
There are those who say Ontario can’t afford this project, or it isn’t the right time. There are lots of ways this can get funded without a single tax increase or having other services cut. Let’s start by ending all subsidies to the auto industry, they’ve become entitled and are holding the province hostage. We can also as a province get out of the controlled access highway business completely by selling all of the 400 series highways to private interests and not like the 407 deal. Another cost cutting measure would be to abandon separate school boards (French and English combined) and only have one set of boards for the entire province instead of four. Savings will be found in healthcare when less people need treatment for vehicle exhaust related lung problems. It is true this isn’t the right time, the right time was fifty years ago when Japan came up with this idea.
At some point in the last century people starting believing making car payments equated freedom, that it is safer to run transportation on an explosive than electricity. Our culture is so absorbed by the automobile we even fetishize them and say anything that threatens them a war on our lifestyle. Add hyper-partisan politics to the car as status symbol and it will be near impossible to evolve the province to the post automobile era. Maybe when Ontario’s car obsessed generations die out China will give us an economic aid package to get Twenty-First Century infrastructure.