High Speed Rail Symposium

Updated:  The start time for this event is now 1:00 pm, not noon as previously announced.

There will be a symposium on high speed rail on Saturday, April 25 from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm at the University of Toronto, Bahen Centre for Technology, 40 St. George Street (just north of College), room 1130.

Pre-registration is required via the sponsor’s website and the cost for the event is $10.

Please note that this announcement does not constitute an endorsement of high speed rail as a priority for rail passenger service.  It may be an appropriate technology, but it needs to be part of a much larger view of rail and of intercity passenger services generally.

19 thoughts on “High Speed Rail Symposium

  1. High speed rail has one major concern for Canada and Ontario. While we are lucky enough to have Windsor, London, Cambridge, Mississauga, Toronto, Oshawa, Kingston and even Montreal all lined up, and along a rail line, Ottawa does not fit into this. Any high speed rail though the Windsor-Quebec City corridor would really need to hit Ottawa (or be left with a gigantic gap between Oshawa and Vaudriel that Kingston can barely try to fill)

    The other option is to focus any high speed rail on the southwest, going from Toronto to Windsor without bothering about heading east.


  2. There can be a separate Ottawa-Montreal and Ottawa-Peterborough/Ottawa-Kingston lines. (assuming the map in the web-site is true, there will be HS service from Peterborough to Toronto. Or you could extend Toronto-Peterborough to Ottawa.

    Also, Amtrack used to run/perhaps still runs the Chicago-Toronto route. That could also be a candidate for HSR.

    Steve: The Toronto-Chicago train ended some years ago. As someone who often had to use it as part of the Toronto-Stratford service, I was happy to see the last of it. Its schedule was dictated not by when people actually wanted to travel, but by delays at the border crossing. The departure from Toronto became so early that you couldn’t get to Union on the subway in time to make the train except from the core of the city, and the return trip in the evening was commonly over an hour late at Stratford, arriving in Toronto around 12:30 or later.


  3. I would expect any HSR project to start east from Toronto, not west (…except maybe up to Cambridge, unless GO covers it first from a Milton extension). There will also likely be debate about going via Peterborough instead of Kingston, and that’s somewhat related to Ottawa’s angle.


  4. I would expect the first route to be between Toronto and Montréal: trains to Ottawa would leave the high-speed line at its nearest point and follow the existing tracks the rest of the way. Remember, even in France, which has a huge high-speed network, the TGVs still spend a substantial amount of time on conventional lines as well. Branches to Ottawa – and perhaps an extension to Québec if demand warranted – could follow later.

    Running west from Toronto, I think improvements to frequency and convenience are much more important than higher speeds. There’s also great potential for a high-speed railway reintroducing service between Calgary and Edmonton, but that’s another story.


  5. Back in the Stone Age, I did a major paper in university on the topic of high-speed rail in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. Even in 1990, they had done quite a lot of thinking about this, and every plan I saw curved up to Ottawa before hitting Montreal. Using the speeds set out by the TGV in France, it would still take only 2.5-3 hrs from Toronto to Montreal.


  6. Karl, I’ve seen that corridor too, and I wonder if it’d be useful for this as well (or even a highway, sorry to make you cringe steve :P) There is another long, thinner line that runs near parallel. I think that using our existing corridors for new services is the best option really. I hope more people can think outside the box like you!


  7. The Congressional Budget Office just released the numbers, it will cost about $9 billion USD to build a high speed rail from Los Angeles (Disneyland) to Las Vegas. No one knows whether it will be Bombardier’s Jet Train technology or Maglev.

    For any high speed service (and we should dream), it has to be fast. If we can build a maglev system from Windsor To Quebec City, it should be operated in a evacuated air tunnel. This means that the air pressure inside is lower which reduces drag. We can get Mach 1 speed out of that. Without it, drag would make a high speed train energy inefficient at about Mach 0.58 . This is why planes do not fly at low attitudes. If we can operate at Mach 1, we can go from Windsor to Quebec in less than 2 hours.


  8. Windsor to Quebec City is double the distance from LA to LV.

    About having a tube, the Sheppard line, a non-air tight ‘tube’ cost 2 billion for 5 kilometers. At those rates, it would cost us 449 billion dollars to build such a thing the entire distance.

    From what I know, and I may be mistaken:

    Your average passenger train travels at 125kph
    Some US “fast” trains can hit as much as 250kph
    True “high speed rail” trains usually go 500kph

    Perhaps I’m mistaken?

    Steve: Another important point made at yesterday’s seminar was that there is an appropriate upper bound on speed for intercity rail just as there is on transit systems. There is absolutely no point in travelling at extremely high speed unless you are going a very long distance and there is sufficient demand in the corridor. I will leave aside the technical complexity of maintaining in working order a vacuum-based system.


  9. I believe you are mistaken, Nick. Last I knew, there is no HSR in revenue service that actually reaches 500km/h. Only stunt test runs of the TGV and the ongoing test of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Track have broken the 500km/h mark, both have in fact come within 20km/h of 600km/h in test runs. The fastest as I recall is in the 350km/h range. East Japan Railway’s newest “FasTech” series is looking at 360km/h (they were looking at 405km/h earlier, but that got scrapped in Japan’s equivalent of an EA).

    Steve: And as before, there is no point travelling at extremely high speed unless you are going a very long distance. Speed for its own sake does not justify technology.


  10. After going through a few more papers, the absolute upper limit for trains is about Mach 0.78 to Mach 0.85. This is strictly form an engineering prespective. As we gets closer to supersonic speeds, drag will become a bigger problem. The next problem is that as the train “slices” through the air, it will create an echo type sound which is not particularly comfortable to humans. Of course to run trains at such high speeds, it must be a long haul trip. It will something in the range of 2000 miles (non stop)before a Mach 0.78 journey is feasible. This is not very feasible for the Windsor to Quebec corridor since Toronto will be bypassed.

    From Windsor to Toronto is only about 370 km (about 230 miles), whish is considered a short haul trip in high speed rail circles. Even in an evacuated air tunnel, the maximum economically feasible speed will be around 200km/h or 120 mph. For the Toronto to Montreal portion, maybe around 400km/h if maglev technology is used.

    For reference, the Shinkasen only runs over 200km/h in very small sections between Hakata to Shin Osaka. This is also the line where all the latest Shinkasen trains are deployed like the Nozomi. Between Shin Kobe and Shin Osaka station, the speed is between 80km/h to 120km/h.


  11. It appears as though I clearly was mistaken.

    For information’s sake, according to Wikipedia…

    the US, UK, and most of Europe, has trains that have between 200kph and 250kph maximums

    Some parts of Europe (France, Germany, Italy) have trains that can reach 300kph in revenue service

    500kph is NOT typical anywhere.


  12. I love travelling by train, but I would not if it ran inside a tunnel. The train is such a great way to see the countryside. What pleasure would there be in what would essentially be a two hour subway ride?


  13. Before high-speed rail comes to Canada, I’d like to see VIA run their operations like a railway, rather than an airline (seriously, one hour check in!?!)


  14. VIA needs a lot of improvement, but you don’t need to arrive any hour before departure. The big improvement was on-line ticket purchase, so you don’t have to stand in those never-moving lines at Union Station. I remember those line-ups from my student days, and they were awful. It seemed to take 5 minutes to sell one ticket. However now you can validate your on-line ticket at an automated kiosk in about 15 seconds. It’s a giant leap forward.

    Steve: It is a great leap when the kiosks work. Fortunately there’s more than one of them.


  15. Three points:
    a) Ottawa is not significantly out of the way for a Toronto – Montreal line. Kingston – Ottawa – Montreal would be on the order of 320 to 380 km, whereas following the existing line along the river through Brockville and Cornwall is about 290 km. Even 90 km extra at 300 km/h is only 20 minutes. That’s not a huge deal, compared to the cost of building both through Ottawa and through Brockville&Cornwall at the same time. Another reason I see to do it this way is that the existing line through Brockville&Cornwall is operated at 160 km/h, whereas the service from Kingston to Ottawa is much slower. A brand new route Kingston to Ottawa is more easily justified.

    b) “standard” high speed rail in Europe is 300 km/h max. Newer lines are 320 km/h, with plans for 360 km/h in future. There is one commercial high-speed maglev line in operation in the world, and that is the 430 km/h max Shanghai airport maglev, using German Transrapid trains. This is a very short line – just 8 minutes end to end.

    c) high speed rail is still remarkably energy efficient. Sample data point: TGV Duplex trains operating Paris to Lyon with 3 intermediate stops averaged 18.0 kWh/train-km, seat 545 and have an average 80% load factor. At 10 cents per kWh that’s $1.80 per km to move, on average, 436 people, or less than half a cent per person-km. I calculate the gasoline energy equivalent to be about 500 passenger-miles-per-gallon.


  16. I should add the source for the TGV Duplex energy consumption info: it’s page 74 of

    Click to access MEETDeliverable17.PDF

    I picked one particular entry from the table as an example. For those curious about the effect of speed on energy efficiency, note the entry for the TGV Atlantique St. Pierre des Corps – Bordeaux, 4 intermediate stops at maximum speed of 220 km/h: only 13.2 kWh/train-km.


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