Sunday, November 07, 2010

The dream of high speed rail

Canada does not have a high speed rail system. Anywhere.

Europe, however, is developing an extensive high speed rail network. Even the British, who shared the Chunnel project with the French, decided that the only way the Chunnel actually made sense was to build a high speed rail connection from London through Kent to connect up with the Chunnel.

Voila! High Speed One... or just HS1 if you like. 108 km of high speed electric rail system connected to the tunnel under the English Channel, connected to the TGV high speed system in France which can get you from downtown London to a fine French hamburger in downtown Paris, (just 35 minutes from Disneyland Europe), in a wee bit over 2 hours. The price? $157.

Awesome.

Except that in 2009 the whole High Speed One thing ran into some financial difficulties brought about by bankers exercising their right to be unfettered free market freebooters and, (before those same bankers insisted that the middle income earners of the world keep them in the opulence to which they claim to be entitled), brought about the near collapse of the pride of the British rail system.

The British government had to step in and take over HS1, lock, stock, barrel and a massive debt.

In case you hadn't noticed, the British government also had to bail out the Thatcherised British banks to the tune of gazillions of Euros and, after an election which produced a coalition government in which the knobs who helped create the global financial mess held the strongest hand, were faced with national bankruptcy. They decided to sell a whopping 16 billion pounds worth of state assets.

The British government put HS1, the infrastructure on which all those lovely 300 km/h electric trains run, up for sale. Asking price 1.5 billion pounds sterling.

Who has that kind of money, you may ask? (If you weren't asking, I'm happy to do it for you.)

Teachers. And municipal maintenance workers. In Ontario. Canada. At least, their pension plans do. The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan is one of the richest in the world and the wealthiest single-profession pension plan in Canada. The Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System operates OMERS worldwide which in turn operates an infrastructure investment arm known as Borealis.

These two got together and, after sending a Goldman-Sachs consortium packing, paid... wait for it... 2.1 billion pounds sterling for a rail system which cost 5.7 billion pounds to build.

Canada still doesn't have a high speed rail system. But Canadians own one.

6 comments:

Rev.Paperboy said...

just out of curiosity, what would it cost us to have the whole thing moved and installed between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal (hitting all points inbetween)? After we can show that works, they can buy the Japanese Shinkansen and install it across the west and maritimes.

Boris said...

We could do that. Or we could dial-up Bombardier.

Zee said...

The second last line of your post gets it right:
"Canada still doesn't have a high speed rail system."
because Borealis Infrastructure and the Ontario Teachers' Pension fund have purcahsed a 30 year lease on track and stations for the high speed train link.
Track and stations...
But the idea that there is a lot of money around that could be used for useful purposes and why can we not do that here in Canada - well, yes!

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes we need modern trans-continental rail service in Canada, especially freight. We have to break our dependency on truck transport between eastern and western Canada. It's inefficient, environmentally unsound and a drag on a healthy economy.

If the Tories and Libs had put their minds to actual infrastructure investments like rail and a new electricity grid for eastern Canada they might have created stimulus spending that generated returns for the future. That new deck on the cottage doesn't cut it.

Dana said...

I doubt very strongly that there will ever again be a federally mandated national infrastructure project. Its also possible that there will never again be a federally mandated project of any kind.

The social contract required to carry one out is no longer operational.

In many ways Canada is already a country in name only. The parts still exist and for the most part they function as they always have.

The whole, however is no longer the sum of the parts because the parts refuse to allow themselves to be added up.

seo said...

Eurostar has really surprising speed that connects london with france..