When the Ontario Budget for 2014 was introduced, it included $29-billion for a variety of infrastructure projects including much transit in the GTHA. The list of projects did not include any mention of High Speed Rail service to London, although it did have a convenient trap door for scope expansion in the phrase:
Outside of the GTHA, priority projects could include …
That “could” can embrace many possibilities beyond the items in the budget paper.
This budget was not passed, but it has been substantially incorporated into the Liberal election platform. Oddly enough, if one visits their infrastructure page, there is still no mention of High Speed Rail. Only when we delve deeper by looking at the detailed plan linked from that page, do we see:
Investing in High-Speed Rail: We will invest in high-speed rail service between southwestern Ontario and Toronto, through London and Kitchener-Waterloo. We will move forward by finalizing the business cases and proceeding with environmental assessments on the line from Toronto to London and between London and Windsor. We will invite the private sector and Ontario-based pension plans to invest in this project.
Burying such an important project a few levels down in an election website is hardly the way to show off a signature plank, and with this as the only mention, there is certainly the feel that it was patched on at the last moment. Never mind that the line has already grown an extension to Windsor.
From the background material released to date, we know that even the most optimistic projections for this line will not be profitable. Where the interest will lie for investment without some form of subsidy is a mystery.
A basic fact bears repeating here: High Speed Rail was not part of the proposed budget, but was tacked on to the platform after the fact. Even now the only commitment is for further study including an environmental assessment.
When the budget was tabled, the HSR was not part of the $29-billion infrastructure fund. Was this a case of a project that didn’t pass muster for budget purposes, but could survive the lesser review needed for a campaign promise? Would the HSR scheme survive in a Ministry of Transportation without Glen Murray?
We are still waiting for the background consulting work done for Murray, but this will remain buried in his Ministry, unavailable for review, until after the election.
There is a case for better rail passenger service in Ontario outside of the GTHA, but this can come much more quickly and almost certainly at lower cost with a focus on less ambitious technology. Ontario may not like VIA’s lacklustre service levels, but building a parellel network and competing services is hardly the way to improve the situation.
Queen’s Park owes all of Ontario such a review, not just a bauble for one corridor.
I’m pretty discontented with most everyone and the talk/sustained bull given how the Places to Grow Act 3.2.2 and 3.2.3 doesn’t apply to Toronto. Those segments seem to imply that as repavings etc. occur there will be/must be changes for bike safety but nada in some key places eg. Bloor St. W. west of Ossington, (though smooth pavement is nice, yes, or will be nice.) Better biking won’t work for everyone, but increasingly it works better than the TTC for many, and it needs to be safer, just as yes, some cyclists could be better/respectful, but try riding around a bit before really condemning all of us. Watch for tracks tho…
Windsor, eh? Missed that.
Amazing how quickly a line can be scribbled on a map.
I live in London and spoke with my Liberal candidate Nick Steinburg when he came to my door. From my recollection this is what he had to say about the line:
– The line will run from London to Pearson. Those traveling to Toronto will need to board the new airport rail link to get to Union. (This was a couple of weeks ago and no mention of Windsor)
– The line will be partially funded by the sale of GM stock. The rest will come out of the transit infrastructure fund.
– He seem to imply that the line would eventually pay for itself. There wasn’t any specifics on this point though.
Steve: It is so nice to know how well informed the candidates are. According to Glen Murray, the HSR will replace the UPX, and by implication everyone will use a shuttle of some kind to reach the airport from the rail corridor (unless he plans to tunnel under Pearson). The line will not pay for itself even according to the study that was done for Murray.
He quoted a travel time of 45 minutes to Pearson and an additional 30 minutes into downtown. It definitely sounds like they campaigning with different assumptions. It would be nice to see some clarification on this. As someone who’s between London and Toronto all the time this line would be amazing.
Has there been any mention of a partnership with Via rail in any of this? They already do have some well used service especially in eastern ontario that most certainly could do with an HSR upgrade in front of London and Windsor.
Furthermore, is it possible for Ontario to fund a federal agency similar to how the state funds Amtrak?
Steve: There has been no mention of Via Rail, and I suspect based on past situations where GO has stepped into existing Via routes, there has been little or no consultation in this case either. I don’t know any reason Ontario could not pay Via in a manner similar to US states and Amtrak beyond the usual suspicion between two levels of government that money paid by “a” simply reduces what “b” might otherwise have to spend.
I’m assuming a tunneled aligned under the airport. Not because it’s anywhere in the campaign lit, but because it’s wasteful enough that would be consistent with the rest of the project.
Although I’m high dubious about the value of a KW-Toronto high speed rail line, I think it was in the budget plan as “Electrification of the GO Kitchener line and Union Pearson Express.” I think they’ve been pretty clear on that fact in all their discussions.
My understanding of their thinking is this:
1. They want all-day 2-way GO service between KW and Toronto
2. This will require them to build new track
3. If they’re building new track anyway, they might as well build them to a slightly higher tolerance to allow for high speed trains since the incremental cost is small
4. And if they’re building new track, they might as well electrify it too since the incremental cost of having the construction crew also do that while they’re out there isn’t too bad either
5. If you’ve just built some high-speed capable track, you might as well run some high speed trains on it too
6. High speed rail between KW and Toronto
In reality, assuming that they try to keep the incremental costs small at each step of the way, the train won’t really be high speed because there’s no way anyone is going to pay a billion dollars to build a proper high speed rail tunnel under downtown Kitchener. It will be high speed capable track that has some weird curves and at-grade crossings on it that will require trains to slow down a lot. But I suppose it IS something worth studying, which the government has promised to do. I don’t think they’ve ever outright said they would build it, just that there’s an economic case for doing so.
Unfortunately, this line of thinking will also delay the building of 2-way all-day KW-Toronto GO train service by many, many years. If Ontario had spare money lying around, then of course, it makes sense to spend a little more to build something future-proof. But with an infrastructure backlog in the billions and billions of dollars, it makes more sense to delay building the KW-Toronto GO line because a) there’s no point in building stuff that’s already out-dated and b) there’s no point in spending more to build something future-proof when there’s more important needs elsewhere in the province.
I think the idea of extending this future high speed rail line from KW to London is not something that has been proposed to be started during the next four years. Oddly enough, the building of a high speed rail line to London will be a sign that the government has actually given up on southwest Ontario. It will be an admission that the manufacturing industry just isn’t coming back, and the only way to keep those communities afloat is by turning them into commuter suburbs of Toronto.
Steve: I agree with much of what you write, but there isn’t one word about High Speed Rail in the Budget, and it appears only in a detailed document as a one-paragraph mention (included in my article), not as some transformational project for SW Ontario. The electrification was always to be done for trains running at standard track speeds. Also, the 15 minute headway is to serve all stops, not just Union, Pearson and Kitchener. The EA work is already done for the line improvements needed along the existing corridor.
As for the timing of any part of this, the truly “high speed” segment would be the completely new track from KW to London. Without this, much of the work is on the existing line at conventional track speeds. HSR certainly has the hallmark of a last ditch goody thrown at the London area, especially with the images of revitalization included in the summary document.
Furthering the idea that this is just an election gimmick, there hasn’t been a word about the HSR project that should be at the top of Ontario’s list (if they’re going to do it at all): Toronto-Ottawa. It just makes so much more sense than going West to London, since (1) Via’s service in this direction is already more developed helping prove the demand, (2) It’s outside the realm of GO, which could improve the T-KW-L route through its own incremental improvements, (3) it could put a substantial dent in YYZ-YOW flights (plus Porter’s as well) relieving Pearson a bit as well as also proving that the market is there, and (4) it could tie in to an eventual extension to Montreal (and eventually Quebec City, as well as to Windsor in the other direction).
But SWO is an electoral battleground, so by all means let’s throw logic to the wind and fancy trains to the West.
Steve: London appears to be the Ontario equivalent of Toronto’s hard done by Scarborough. I am waiting for the campaign that says “nothing but HSR is good enough for London”.
This line will have to be 200km/h medium speed electric rail to have any hope of getting it built. 300km/h high speed rail costs too much, the government has a huge budget deficit and the distance is too short to justify it. This line would probably have high ridership though, given that the sections of 401 between Milton, Kitchener and London are the busiest sections of the highway outside the GTA.
Last I checked, there was a VIA train bound for Kitchener and points west and a GO train bound for Kitchener leaving Union Station weekday evenings within 5 minutes of each other on the same routing. What sense does that make? Can we not just have service that works for people? NOW!
The problem with building HSR lies not in what it serves but in what it does not serve. When I was in Florida in the Winter of 2011 I was talking to a man who owned a company that built pre-stressed and post stressed concrete bridges, just the type needed for HSR. He said he hoped that the planned line in Florida was cancelled because every town wanted a stop added for its residents. He said they put in more stops than highway interchanges and if they left it as slightly faster rail then there would be fewer stop requests.
I can see this happening in Ontario. First off Guelph, Stratford and St. Mary’s would want the line to go through them then Acton, Rockton, Shakespeare and every little town would want a stop. Let’s just get good faster service that would draw more people onto the trains.
When people say that a rail line will not pay for itself that is usually true but to be fair we should also look at expenses that were saved because the line was built. I would hate to see the highway network required if GO did not exist. No one seems to point that out.
Yes, imagine Lakeshore with 12k passengers per hour pushed into the road network. That is likely close to an additional 6 lanes of expressway per direction required. There is neither the money nor the space to support this inside Metro, and it would be hard to support even beyond Metro.
Need to support rail where it will have the largest impact first however. London is too far, and even London can gain substantial benefits from high frequency, reasonably express service from just beyond Hamilton, and just beyond Cambridge delivered to a location rapidly accessed from the 401 or 403. The trains need to be frequent and fairly rapid. A train every 15 minutes or even 30 all day would be huge for both the communities directly served, and those who could access from beyond.
A true high speed rail system is very different than conventional rail service. If we choose to build a new alignment, this is a fundamental question that must be answered. Once it is not built to high speed rail standards, it will cost a fortune to upgrade to one in the future. If upgrading is not possible, a whole new alignment will need to be built at a great cost.
One cannot fault the Liberal administration for dreaming. Even if this line requires borrowing from the World Bank to build, it can fundamentally transform southern Ontario. With the new line, it would be possible for an IT worker to live in downtown Toronto and commute to Waterloo for work as long as it connects to iXpress. If one can increase the radius in which companies can have access to workers, it would incease the talent pool.
By having a sprinkler system spraying deicer, a train can operate in snow where planes would be diverted and highways closed. This will allow the snow clearing resources to be focused at YYZ. By clearing the snow, business executives can still head to YYZ and connect to other major cities around the world.
Trains already run in snow conditions that would ground airplanes and close highways and they don’t use a deicing system. As well, the worst snow conditions along the line would be located at the London end; not at the Toronto end.
If high speed rail is an election gimmick they could certainly be doing a better job of promoting it beyond a leak or two and a buried document.
I’m not saying that an election gimmick is right or wrong but it us an unfortunate part of realpolitik in Ontario and Toronto. Look at the perceived “need” for Toronto mayors to have a transit “plan” no matter what … and the quality of the “plans” that have come up.
I suspect that this constitutes a substantial portion of the projected value of many transit projects – certainly Steve has pointed this out in several places, like the Neptis evaluation of the UPX to name just one recent case. Unfortunately – again, as Steve has noted – it’s not possible to capture this value to pay down capital debt, or fund operations. It’s not real money.
And from my own cynical point of view, the complement to “not build transit” is “not build highways either.” It’s really easy not to build things, and hey, in a few years it’ll be someone else’s problem anyway.
One thing that I find interesting is how the connection between the HSR and Pearson is made.
A) The UPEx becomes a shuttle for the HSR with a station at Woodbine (Rexdale Blvd / Hwy 27). Unneeded trains are repurposed.
B) Some UPEx trains are used for shuttles to a station at Woodbine while the majority continue to provide the express service.
C) UPEx continues as planned, HSR stops at a new station at Woodbine and passengers transfer to an extension of the Finch West LRT to “Pearson Airport” (the value park garage with a connection to the LINK Train) via Highway 27, Queen’s Plate, and Goreway Dr.
Seems to me that no matter what happens there will have to a new “integrated” station somewhere near Woodbine.
While it certainly is not hard money, there is “soft money” in the sense of losing competitiveness due to a lack of investment. Something has to be built to stay competitive, or one encounters forfeited money when the breaking point is reached. Quantifying that will always be both difficult and probably controversial.
Steve: And the problem remains of identifying and capturing that revenue stream to pay down debt. A new factory has GDP of its own, but it also hires people who in turn spend money where they live, not necessarily where they work.
Certainly the existing service can be upgraded for less money, up front, than developing HSR. Much less. But the returns will obviously also be less. It is cheaper to fix the roof of an old shack than to build a new modern building, but if you can get a lot more rent from the new building then the larger investment may be worthwhile.
The analysis we did looked at a range of options, including fixing VIA a bit, a lot, or developing 200km/h and 320 km/h HSR. Murray actually disclosed many of the summary figures for each option in his table. We did the analysis with our minds open – actually it was our idea, not the Ministry’s to look at less capital-intensive options as we thought it would be difficult to make the case for HSR. We were surprised (pleasantly) that the case showed so strongly that the most capital intensive solution would also give the best financial and economic case – actually costing the least to the taxpayer over 25 years.
I was saddened to see Greg Gormick’s piece in the Star yesterday – he is playing “Dog in the Manger”. Attempts to get Government to fund incremental upgrades to VIA have failed, for 40 years, because they just don’t deliver enough to be worthwhile. HSR will cost more, but deliver much much more. And we have in Glen Murray, at least one politician who seems to embrace the vision. Why is Greg against this?
Steve: I cannot speak for Greg, but there is a basic problem that megaprojects tend to stall when their sponsors move on to other portfolios or are defeated. Voters tire of hearing about grandiose schemes that never get off the ground while existing services barely hang on or dwindle. If we were in an environment where people knew what rail could do, had some faith in it, demanded more, then there would be a political constituency for the larger projects. However, what we have is politicians who only want to promote the most expensive and complex projects while claiming they won’t cost us anything, or at least not very much.
People want “subways” because that’s the technology they know, and “LRT” is both a moving and oft misrepresented concept. They dislike buses and streetcars because they are crowded and unreliable thanks to underfunding, poor management and an attitude that running barely enough service is acceptable because “more vehicles will just get stuck in traffic”. That’s a standard TTC cop-out to calls for better service while they do nothing to make the service on the street more reliable.
As for intercity rail, GO is very popular and people want more, but Queen’s Park has been very slow to act, and Metrolinx (as you yourself have observed) drags its feet on the most important component of The Big Move. There is no advocacy for things we can do starting right now, only for expensive projects we can talk about that are at least one if not two political cycles away.
Finally, as for the economics of the various proposals, until I see the details from the background study including how the relative profitability of each scheme was determined and the demand modelled, I remain skeptical. Toronto has seen too many plans with well-cooked demand figures (Sheppard Subway, Scarborough Subway), and the model you use I am sure is strongly influenced by travel times — faster trains generate more demand. But there’s more to a trip than just the London-to-Union rail journey.
Some comments I have heard suggest that the primary market for this service is going to be KW, not London, and yet the delta in travel time from KW is much less because a good chunk of the journey runs over existing tracks. Indeed without that long new segment from KW to London, there wouldn’t be enough “high speed” to justify an “HSR” project.
A related issue is the apparent pitch that this has something to do with a revitalized London (the pair of Pittsburg photos in the summary presentation certainly imply that). This runs headlong into statements about how quickly Londoners will be able to reach Toronto. Nothing about how somehow a fast train into London will aid the city locally. Of course there is a basic problem: people come to London from many origins, not just from the northeast, and HSR does absolutely nothing for people travelling from other directions. It would be like London UK with only one rail corridor feeding into the city.
Finally, the info in the Liberals’ election backgrounder states that the HSR would go to Windsor, something your summary does not mention, but also I suspect yet another sop to the idea of rebuilding southwestern Ontario. In this context, no matter how professional and unbiased your work may be, it is tainted by the political ends for which it is used. Given that HSR was not in the budget, and is not in the main part of the Liberal platform, only in a background paper, I have to ask whether this project has legs beyond Murray’s campaign.
When we examine the proposals, we need to start to look at it in terms of the list of other places where the money could be spent. I personally do not have a problem with HSR, however, it is important to remember that this is like any other investment. You should invest first (as a person) in the areas that will bring the largest return with the lowest associated risk. If there is an alternative investment that represents both a higher return and lower risk, it should be made first.
What disturbs me, is that we are losing sight of the basic definition of the study of economics “the allocation of scarce resources between competing ends”. The taxpayer of Ontario has only so much money they are willing to spend or invest through Government of Ontario, and other areas compete for these resources. I strongly suspect that upgrading GO, and building things like LRT will provide a higher social and economic return with lower associated risks.
Look at the total amount of money that the province can or should reasonably invest, and start to place the projects in a table, and see which ones fall off the bottom in the short, and medium term. HSR might be a good investment, however, I believe there are better investments, and we cannot afford to buy the whole market. Basically the opportunity cost of this project is likely too high. Place on a grid of priorities, with dollars, and rank order it.
What does the sprinkler system do? Is it sprinkled onto the over head to keep ice from forming? This can be accomplished by having the pan push up a little harder to cause the wire to flex and break of the ice. If it is used to keep snow off the tracks you would need to haul along a lot of tank cars to carry enough de-icer. Plows have seemed to work quite well on rails for over 150 years. Perhaps they have to spray the car bodies to keep ice from sticking to them. It would be cheaper to just run a little heat through the skin periodically with electric wires if their aerodynamics suffer from ice build up.
A sprinkler system is used to spray propylene glycol on to the tracks and as the train approach the station. When a train is immobile at the station, ice formation risk is the highest. Once the train is moving, the heat from friction is usually enough to keep it relatively ice free. Propylene glycol is also sprayed on the rails and switches. It is much better than track heaters since the water from melted ice will run off and freeze up somewhere else.
The Finnish National Railway and JR use this system to keep their lines open during winter. In light of the recent polar vortex in Ontario, we ought to build a system that is resistant to winter. It is not that hard to build. Every 30 km or so, a tank would need to be build to store the de icer. Just like a garden sprinkler system, it can be programmed to spray every so often. With the ATO system, it could also trigger to spray de icer on a train as it approach a station.
Since this is only a concern for high speed rail, and regular heavy rail will simply crush the ice out of the way, and be moving slow enough for the small loss of friction in braking to be a liveable issue, to me this is just one more cost that would need to be absorbed and make it harder to justify high speed. I would prefer to see more express trains, some track maintenance and running speeds in the higher end of what is already viable with current systems. Run the train at 160-200 km/h and remind yourself that London is only 200 km away. How fast can you actually safely run through the areas that are built up?
I would say that this is well down my list of required investments. Improve and extend GO rail, build the Don Mills Subway, complete the Cross Town to the airport, build the Finch LRT, the Mississauga LRT and BRT, the Viva and York Region LRT/BRT, the Scarborough LRT, Sheppard East LRT, Scarborough Durham BRT, Hamilton LRT, Don Mills LRT, the Waterfront East and West and then, maybe, we can look at this.
There are so many proposals on the table where the provinces financial resources and involvement are likely to bring a higher return, the province can only do so much at a time, and the backlog so large that by the time building this is appropriate there will likely be a some changes that need to be addressed. It is unlikely all of the proposal listed above, that are all more pressing will be built in the next 20 years, assuming that the government is reasonably dedicated to the task.
When this proposal first appeared I was pretty well utterly disgusted with it, but it has actually grown on me, so I’m going to try and present the dissenting voice here.
From a purely urban transit perspective it probably is true that this line is mostly a giant opportunity cost, but at the same time I honestly believe that in terms of creating long term sustainability, resilience and livability for regions and countries as whole entities intercity high(er) speed rail is at least as important as the urban transportation side. It’s also true to say that true HSR is not really needed west of Toronto (at least for purely Canadian line), but at the same time I feel that a better than local service is needed in the corridor, and especially around Guelph the existing line is quite difficult for higher speeds, high frequencies or even more than two tracks.
I’ve also come to think that one of the biggest political stumbling blocks to high speed rail in Ontario has and will likely continue to be the cries from Western Ontario to the effect of how Quebec gets a line (paid for by Ontario no less) before they do. Further, I fully believe that high speed rail will be much like light rail was in the 1980s; once a line is open and operating the pace of construction, belief in it and outright public demand for it will grow enormously. Western Ontario is cheaper, simpler, faster and most importantly politically easier than just about any other possible line. Building a line to Windsor (and yes, that is imo where it should end up, actually I’d prefer to take it on to Detroit and link to Amtrak with customs in the American terminal) has become in my view the bit of realpolitik that will get high speed rail in this province, and indeed North America, started. We can complain all day about it not being the technically ideal solution, but we are operating in a representative democracy and quite frankly that more often than no does make the perfect the enemy of the good, typically to the loss of far more than just the immediate issue at hand.
As far as GO, I’m the first to admit that the HSR project does very little for the majority of demand on the corridor, but quite frankly it seems easier to get the urban frequency electric service we should have all the way to Kitchener started as an addon to an HSR project that it connects to at both ends than as a standalone project that many will try and reduce to little more than a few extra trains to Brampton.
While I will not say your perspective of getting the extra service as an add-on is wrong from a purely political perspective, it does speak volumes to what is wrong. It should be easier to do some track maintenance and add a few trains an hour than to build new very expensive lines, electrify them and buy all new high cost equipment.
We need to address a lot of things to improve basic service, which will need to be done to support this type of service. Union Station needs to increase its ability to turn trains and clear platforms. Basic signalling improvements will be required regardless. It is disturbing that we can not sell that but can sell something that is many times as costly in order to get that service.