Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for April 3rd, 2007

French Set Rail Speed Record: 357.2 Mph

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| World Latest | Guardian Unlimited

For me, this was the biggest story of the day. No, TGV will not operate at anything like this speed. They put on bigger wheels, bigger motors and even upped the voltage in the catenary. But it really did capture the headlines and people are beginning to notice that fast trains do win people away from airplanes. And that is good news for reducing ghg emissions.

Breaking the record

Which makes Canada’s dismal record in passenger train provision all the sadder.

The major benefit of intercity rail is that the trains run from city centre to city centre. And usually avoid all the hassles that beset air travellers at terminals these days. Canada does not have a lot of city pairs where this type of service becomes competitive – but Vancouver – Seattle, Calgary – Edmonton and Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal are obviously crying out for this kind of service. Of course the federal government decided to kick the trains out of downtown Ottawa and use the station as a civil servants’ conference centre instead.

It is also worth noting that when they run the winter Olympics in European venues, there is usually a very good electric train service already in place to the ski centres. Japan too of course has Shinkansens. And the German ICE has an even more practical approach of strategic improvements to critical sections rather than building extensive new rights of way like the TGV uses (and now the Channel Tunnel Link in Britain that the French are building). Meanwhile the Swiss are blasting a new railway tunnel under the Alps, and already ban international trucks through their country. They put the trucks on a piggy back train and the drivers have comfortable coaches to get some rest in.

Canada seems willing to study these things ad nauseam but always comes up with excuses why it won’t work here. Mostly I think because private companies own the rights of way and make a lot of money running very slow freight trains, and fitting fast passenger trains in between them is a logistical nightmare.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2007 at 7:02 pm