Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘CN

Deal for Chicago Rail Line Approved

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Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Wednesday approved a merger of rail companies, in a move designed to relieve rail and auto traffic congestion in the Chicago area.

The board unanimously approved the Canadian National Railway Co.’s purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. from U.S. Steel Corp. Canadian National offered to pay $300 million for the line and spend another $140 million to upgrade the line and help communities mitigate the traffic impacts.

There was a lot of politicking around this one – but it came down to some communities against others. And despite the “threat” that the election of Barack Obama was supposed to pose to the deal, common sense prevailed.

This will also be good news for Prince Rupert – as the route from there to the midwest will now see significant time savings.

EJ&E rail train at Gilmer Road in Hawthorn Woods

EJ&E rail train at Gilmer Road in Hawthorn Woods

Written by Stephen Rees

December 24, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Railway

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CN asked to set aside $150m

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The long running and high profile proposal by CN to buy the Elgin and Joilet (“The Juice” – its locos are painted orange) gets more attention.

EJ&E rail train at Gilmer Road in Hawthorn Woods

EJ&E rail train at Gilmer Road in Hawthorn Woods

The EJE is not actually very well utilised at present, and Chicago has been a very congested railway hub for a long time. What is also now being noticed is that some inner neighbourhoods will actually benefit from this proposal. But they are not as well connected as those who seem ready to price CN out of the deal by insisting on overpasses and other measures, so that their driving is not disrupted.

I have the distinct feeling too that CN is seen an a Canadian interloper, not a major North American railroad. And no-one seems to notice that trains are much more efficient at moving freight than trucks. And of course no-one in Chicago cares about Prince Rupert.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Posted in freight transport, Railway

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Prince Rupert casts a wary eye on Chicago

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Globe and Mail

I am very grateful that the The Tyee has this neat column headed “Reported Elsewhere” which meant I finally caught up with this story. You may have heard that Barrack Obama has gone on record as opposing CN’s acquisition of the EJ&E (“The Juice”) a railway in suburban Chicago that would help it avoid the congestion in the US biggest rail hub.

CN has run into significant public opposition in its bid for approval of the acquisition of Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. CN wants the rail line so it can bypass Chicago through the suburb of Barrington and cut nearly 30 hours off the time it takes container trains to reach destinations in the American Southeast – and that means a faster route from Prince Rupert into key U.S. markets.

“It certainly would add tremendous market weight to our gateway,” Mr. Krusel said of the EJ&E acquisition. “If they are successful in getting that line, it will be 100 hours [from Prince Rupert] to Memphis. We’ll be just as close in time as L.A./Long Beach – maybe closer.”

But what catches my attention is the broader context. Prince Rupert is not, at the moment, doing very well. Partly that is simply teething trouble with a new facility. But as noted elsewhere, the world is changing too

Prince Rupert is holding its own while other West Coast ports are seeing declines in container shipments now. “A year ago we would have expected a second carrier here,” he said. “That hasn’t happened. Carriers are reducing service on the Pacific, everywhere.

Prince Rupert has plenty of spare capacity and the demand for moving containers from China to the US is declining. So what on earth are we doing pressing ahead with a port expansion at Roberts Bank? There are all sorts of questions raised about its environmental impact and plenty of reason to suspect that whatever studies were done were pre-determined. In BC we seem to think that somehow we are immune and do not need to concern ourselves about ecology. But more than that, why are we proposing to spend vast sums on infrastructure for a port expansion that seems to be destined to be a white elephant.

Prince Rupert has a two day sailing advantage over Vancouver for Asian Pacific trade – and that is important in reducing cost, both inventories and ship’s bunkers. And the CN line through Chicago looks like a lot better bet then the congested lower mainland, where rail investment means the odd overpass here and there – not massive increases in capacity and some very weak links indeed.

By the way, has anyone ever heard one of those management types from Port of Vancouver ever admit that trans pacific container trade was actually declining?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 26, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Gateway

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Jacqueline Thorpe, Financial Post

Published: Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jacqueline has drunk the cool aid. She drives the QEW and 401 and then writes about the need for more freeways.

I leave Jordan, Ont., for the 100-kilometre trip east to Toronto one recent morning at 7:30 a.m. I pass new subdivisions that ring the west side of Lake Ontario like a giant barnacle. Twenty-five minutes into my drive through the Golden Horseshoe, I run into traffic at Burlington. It never lets up. I slow down, speed up, get cut off, swear at the moron in front of me. I cruise talk radio and resist the urge to check my BlackBerry. My blood just begins to boil amid the sheer tedium and inefficiency of what is for hundreds of thousands of Canadians a typical everyday morning commute.

Two hours and 15 minutes later — at least twice as long as it should have taken me–I arrive at my office in north Toronto a frazzled mess.

A couple of questions occur to me. Why does she expect to be able to average 100kph? And why not park when you hit Burlington? The GO train service along the lakeshore is not only fast (compared to the freeway) it is also frequent and runs all day, not just peak hour peak direction. And why does she think that more freeway capacity will make any difference? Isn’t doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome the definition of madness?

These highways have been steadily widened over the years. The central section of the 401 is a multilane nightmare, and as she notes the privatised 407 really didn’t make things much better, despite its electronic tolls. The “giant barnacles” see to that. The developers would not have put up those subdivisions if it had not been for the freeways. And that land in Southern Ontario, especially the area around the Niagara escarpment was high value farm land. Some of it, like the unique ecosystem of the Oak Ridges Moraine (the watershed north of Toronto) was early identified as being too important to allow for development. But it is happening anyway. And since it doesn’t have access the York Region trunk sewer (which follows Yonge Street from Lake Ontario to Lake Scugog) most of it is on well water and tile field drainage, and thus low density.

This is the future that Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell want to bring to the Fraser Valley. This is what they think of when they talk about “sustainable development” – but without the GO trains. This is why we have to speak up – soon – at the process that currently is trying to ignore the environmental impact of the Gateway.

This being the FP, the article is all about how private sector partnerships and how the public sector can be “securitized”. She does mention that the 407 experience “traumatized” Ontario. She just assumes that the reader will either know enough about that or able to look it up. But the impression is that it was an exception, born out of inexperience. Actually, no, P3s have had very mixed results indeed. And “securitization” does not actually provide provide much security either. That was the process that meant banks in the United States could lend far too much money to people who could not afford huge mortgages – with the results we now see. There is a real prospect of a major recession south of the 49th.

And there is no mention of what other ways there might be to deal with the supposed “crisis” in our infrastructure. What other ways there might be to organise ourselves so that we do not need freeways and truck sewers. The word “sustainability” does not appear in this piece – or “peak oil”. Or the need to diversify our economy since it now looks like our biggest customer will not be able to afford the things we sell them. The assumption behind this article is that business as usual and its 100km commutes will continue and all we need is a bit more financial wizardry.

The article does not say why the private sector is better able to build and run projects than governments. On the whole, it seems to me that the imperative to maximize profit does not serve the public very well. The conduct of the war in Iraq is very good business for Halliburton: somehow it does not seem to benefit the people of Iraq or the US very much. The privatisation of British Railways now ensures that the formerly “intolerable” level of public subsidies is now three times higher than it was before it was sold off to the highest bidders (who mostly made out like bandits). The cost in terms just of the death toll of an unprecedented series of train crashes in Britain since privatization should be enough to make us think twice. The private sector consortium that took over the maintenance of part of the London Underground has gone bust, and is now owned by London’s equivalent of the GVRD. In BC, the sale of BC Rail meant that we lost all the fish in a river since CN felt that cutting cost was the only thing they had to be concerned about.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2007 at 11:07 am

IOC satisfied housing and road problems resolved

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Vancouver Sun

Oh well that’s all right then. The games can go on. Just forget everything that Vanoc and the IOC said about sustainability and legacy and all that environmental stuff. Some of us were cynical enough at the time to think that was just window dressing and the IOC have now shown that we were right.

The games – if it snows – will go ahead and the tv revenues will roll in – and the sponsorships are all sewn up now so there’s plenty of cash and hospitality suites for the fat cats.

Of course, we still face a major housing crisis in the region, but there will be enough beds for the athletes and the tv crews. At least for the few weeks that the IOC actually gives a damn about.

The legacy will be a much faster highway. There will be lots of expensive condos popping up along it for years to come and those people will quickly fill it up and slow it down again. Which is probably a good thing since the only problem with the old highway was the lack of common sense among those who feel themselves to be exempt both from the laws of the road and those of physics.

Oh and the highway might well have a hydrogen filling station on it too. Won’t that be nice. One of the sponsors may well manage to borrow a hydrogen car for a day so they can have a photo op. It won’t be much use after that but it will have served its purpose.

Meanwhile CN will have got out of its commitment to operate the rail line. There may or may not be agreement to keep the odd tourist train running now and then. After all the type of tourist it attracts is not too bothered by the fare. There will not be any kind of real passenger service of course: nothing to offer the now booming population growth of the area any kind of alternative to the Sea to Sky which will still see horrendous accidents and rock falls. And irregular, unpredictable closures. Though they may be able to clear up the mess a bit quicker by relocating some cops.

2010 could have been an opportunity to do better and to showcase to the world how serious we were about it. Instead they are going to see us for what we really are.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 14, 2007 at 10:31 am

Posted in Olympics

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