London Moves – Part 5 – Rail

As evident in the first four parts of this series, my mobility plan emphasizes the need for our community to improve its connectivity to places both inside and outside of our city.

This perspective is reinforced by my concern over the increasing constraints on our mobility, and our ability to effectively transact business, attract talent and capital, accommodate visitors, and interact with family and friends both inside and outside of London.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that any London mobility plan would be incomplete if it does not address the constraints of rail inside of our city and the potential opportunities for it outside.

For the record, I am a huge supporter of our rail industry. They directly employ dozens of Londoners and enable the employment of thousands more. Rail moves billions of dollars worth of goods, services, and people throughout our region safely and cost effectively. Their contribution is vital to our economic interests.

As such, I am not the least bit interested in seeing this business disappear from London. If anything,  I would like to see our rail connectivity in the region grow considerably.  However, I would also like to see us find a way to reduce or eliminate the few constraints that rail imposes upon our ability to move inside the city.

Fortunately, there is considerable agreement among all of our elected officials, and throughout the community, that the following two initiatives need to be key near-term priorities for our region if we hope to realize our prosperity agenda.

High Speed Rail/High Performance Rail

Last summer, in a short series of posts entitled A Tale of Two Transit Plans, I wrote at length about the need for London to secure a High-Speed Rail (HSR) connection along the Province’s planned Toronto-Windsor link. The reasons were threefold:

  • Combat our city’s growing economic, social, and cultural isolation.
  • Improve our city’s access to talent and capital.
  • Enhance our region’s competitive position on the global stage.

Concurrent with this release of the Provincial Government’s HSR plan, federally-funded VIA Rail has been working on its own plan to introduce High Performance Rail (HPR) on dedicated tracks along the existing Quebec City-Windsor corridor.  HPR operates at a nominally slower speed (160-200km/hr) than HSR (200-240km/hr), but offers several advantages over HSR including;

  • Use of existing right-of-ways.
  • Improved connectivity to existing connection points.
  • Lower capital cost and ease of implementation.
  • Less intrusion on regional farmland and assets.

Clearly there are pros and cons to either approach.  Frankly, I would be interested in our city lobbying hard in support of both options in a manner that is thoughtful and respectful of our regional partners, until one emerges as the preferred route. The key for me is securing access to this valuable mode of transportation for our city and our citizens.

In my role as a CEO for a number of Western University subsidiaries, I have had the pleasure of repeatedly witnessing first-hand how economic powerhouses like China, Japan, Korea, and the European Union are using high speed, high performance rail to connect and compete in the global economy.  While domestic air travel in Asia is notoriously unreliable, HSR systems overseas run with the precision of a Swiss watch.   For example, I have frequently held a morning business meeting in London’s sister city of Nanjing, China and then travelled over 1,000 km via HSR to Beijing for another meeting that afternoon all in under 5 hours.  We need to match this level of reliability and effectiveness, and do so quickly, or risk getting left behind. Talent and capital move to cities that can quickly, easily and reliably accommodate them. We either satisfy that need for speed, or lose out to someone else.

CN/CP Rail

There are few issues in our city that galvanize the frustrations of Londoners more than the constraints rail lines running through the core place on our city’s ability to move around.  In fact, it would be hard to find a Londoner that would not welcome their outright removal from the city’s core or more options to get around them.

This call for their removal and/or work-arounds has been amplified by the Shift BRT debate.

City Council, to its credit, has approved a couple of initiatives to help addresses these concerns. They include exploring the prospects of moving the CP tracks that run along the downtown’s north end, and the initiation of environmental assessments to construct an overpass or underpass at Adelaide and Central. Either option would be preferable to the status quo. Let’s just get it done.

I, for one, prefer to outright move the CP tracks, and believe that there is a deal to be made at a reasonable price, especially when one considers the extensive term costs associated with constructing over/under passes along the CP route.  I also believe that at some point CP will want and need to move their crosstown track to support their business.   Above all I believe that with a little ingenuity, a cost-effective alternative can be found that works for everyone.

One thing we can all agree on (and I know I’m stating the obvious) is that sooner or later, London is going to have to address these barriers to mobility inside our city if we hope to realize its growth and prosperity objectives.

For me, that time is now.


Next week – Automobiles and Automation