Every time there is a new Liberal government in Ottawa, VIA Rail appears, exactly on schedule, to promote
spending money investing on a dedicated passenger rail network in The Corridor (Windsor-Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City, or some subset thereof). While the “solution” is always the same, the arguments leading to that solution vary with the fashion. It’s for energy saving. Its for electrification. Its for affordable intercity travel. It’s to be world class. It’s for infrastructure. It’s for fighting climate change. Etc etc.
The key to an improved intercity passenger rail service is believed to be a dedicated line. Freight trains are too long and hard to stop on the sidings, so passenger trains are shunted aside, delaying their travel and wrecking schedules. Quick and timely turnaround of trainsets is key to economical use of crews and equipment.
Freight trains, like trucks on roads, are hard on the roadbed, reducing passenger comfort and reducing speed.
If governments build a dedicated passenger line, and people will come, goes the theory. Icing on the cake: it can be Electric. No fossil fuels. Bonus: grateful electricity monopolists in Ontario and Quebec.
In Italy last autumn, I was surprised to see some new techniques (new to me, in my limited knowledge) for rail roadbeds under construction.
Previously, I saw fast intercity lines under construction on elevated viaducts, rather like the transitway over Bayview Road is and the LRT tracks will be: two concrete walls, the space between filled with gravel, (concrete?) ties, track on top.
Back in Italy, I initially thought I saw a new freeway under construction. Curbs. Catch basins. Paved surface… awfully close to the rail line.
But then there were those towers at regular intervals …
Would they actually take a paved surface, add ties on top, then track? Yup, after a dozen kilometres of the new road bed, it connected to this older alignment:
I can only presume the pavement layer is to keep the deeper roadbed dry and stable, and the paved surface might make fine adjustments to the ties easier.
It brought back an old fantasy of mine: build a surface streetcar, oops, LRT line, from Gatineau across the Alexandra Bridge, like it was 1945 again …
along MacKenzie Drive …
crossing Rideau Street (which will be back to two lanes by then) …
onto Colonel By Drive.
Convenient surface stops at the Gallery, the By Ward Market, the Rideau Confederation Line station, Ottawa U, Ottawa East, opposite Glebe / Lansdowne Park, Bank, Bronson, then on to Carleton U and the north-south Trillium Line.
Picture: downtown Phoenix transit station with low platform. Soon to be in Ottawa, but not on a street right of way.
Essentially, we would take back from the automobile what was once before and could be once again a rail corridor. We had a Greber-induced “technology switch” once before, when rail went out of fashion and cars were “in”. Maybe we could do it again: car to electric transit.
The NCC would certainly object, since Colonel By Drive is supposed to be the ceremonial entrance to the downtown for the Queen and Visiting Dignitaries who could only arrive by limo.
Although, back in the day, we once had a royal streetcar:
For us plebes, it would certainly make for a much more wonderful east side of the Rideau Canal.