Friday, July 17, 2009

HSR is the wrong stimulus

Reference: The right kind of stimulus, Friday, July 17, 2009, The Globe and Mail

The Globe's editorial fittingly praises the federal government for its planned $300 million investment in ViaRail. Regular speed rail service in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor is a welcome alternative to other modes of travel. However, Globe's support for high-speed rail (HSR) link in the same corridor is based on perceived benefits of HSR that are unlikely to realize.

The editorial stated that investment in HSR is needed to get "large numbers of people out of their cars." However, previous studies have shown that HSR is unlikely to get commuters out of their cars. Instead, HSR eats into the market share of air and bus modes.

The recently released report by the Alberta government on HSR in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor reinforces the fact that HSR would fail to make a significant dent in the automobile market share, which is currently estimated at 91%. According to the Alberta study, even with HSR operating at 240 km/hour, 95% of trips in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor would continue to be made by private automobile in 2011.*

Mode share in 2011

240 km/h





Grey Hound


Red Arrow


High Speed Rail


Total trips


We in Canada have to acknowledge the fact that HSR is not likely to reduce commuting by private automobile. Investing billions of tax payers' dollars will only hurt the existing public modes of travel, i.e., bus and air, and the livelihoods of those households associated with these public modes. Furthermore, HSR would also make commuting more unaffordable for low-income commuters and students who rely on inexpensive bus service for their essential intercity travel in Canada.

*Market Assessment of High Speed Rail Service in the Calgary Edmonton Corridor, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, Feb 2008, page 105.

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