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A woman walks past a high-speed train at the Saint Charles station in Marseille - 3 Apr 2018 Claude Paris.
9 April 2018
Kathleen Wynne Feeling that Disney Magic has Got a Super Train for You

Toronto Ontario - Just recently a new rail service began in Florida, which, when completed, will swiftly shuttle happy families from Miami to the wonders of Disney World, 380 kilometres away.
 
The line isn't limited to Disney patrons alone, but perhaps the allure of that fairy tale world helped spur the enthusiasm of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne for the wonders of train travel.
 
Disney, of course, is a magical place where fantastical things happen, Wynne's Liberals appear to need something equally wondrous to happen if they're to hold onto office in June.
 
Among the many spending plans the Liberals trumpeted in their pre-election budget is $11 billion for a High-Speed Rail (HSR) line from Toronto to Windsor.
 
The line, it promised, would pay for itself by generating billions in new revenue as people and industry flock to be near it.
 
"I'm very excited," said Transport Minister Kathryn McGarry.
 
"This is a project that can look to see $20 billion worth of economic activity, due to HSR."
 
The rail pledge drew surprisingly little attention, perhaps overwhelmed by the barrage of promises Wynne unveiled as her Liberals try to lift themselves from the floor of public opinion.
 
Or perhaps people felt they'd heard it all before, Liberals have been having HSR dreams for years, usually focused on a Quebec City-to-Windsor route.
 
Former federal cabinet member Joe Volpe was a big proponent, and former leader Michael Ignatieff saw it as a Big Thing Canada could do to show we were still capable of Big Things, though he eventually backed off over concerns about the cost.
 
The fact that federal leaders felt the country as a whole couldn't afford the project evidently didn't deter Wynne from deciding Ontario could dang well do it on its own, skipping the Quebec portion, and limiting the route to southwestern Ontario.
 
She didn't pluck the plan from thin air.
 
In 2015 the Liberals commissioned an in-depth study, appointing long-time loyal Liberal and 20 year MP David Collenette to carry out a wholly objective and non-partisan assessment of the project.
 
Collenette engaged in extensive consultations and discovered that everyone thought it was a great idea, "Every community the Special Advisor engaged with expressed a view that HSR would be a transformative project with the potential to support and deliver economic growth," the report found.
 
Particularly enthused were local municipal leaders, who "acknowledged that frequent, efficient, and fast public transportation between regional hubs is essential to prosperity and long-term growth."
 
Well, yeah, especially if you think the province is going to pick up the tab and not stick city hall with any of the bills.
 
Encouraged by the review, the province set up a planning board, and no doubt after an extensive search, appointed none other than Collenette to chair it.
 
McGarry was careful to note that this wasn't just some pie-in-the-sky fantasy involving super-fast choo-choos, but "part of Ontario's plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of rapid economic change."
 
Of course.
 
Everyone knows that "fairness" includes the ability to get from Toronto to Windsor in under four hours.
 
For those not mesmerized by the prospect of low-emission locomotives hurtling across the countryside, serious questions remain.
 
For instance, in the 50 years since Japan launched the first bullet train, HSR has established a firm record of huge costs with disappointing returns.
 
Only one or two of the dozens of lines across the globe actually make money.
 
The others are heavily subsidized by governments willing to spend billions in annual support.
 
A proposed Los Angeles to San Francisco line was estimated at $42 billion but is now at $77 billion and rising to a possible $98 billion.
 
A line linking Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland was estimated at $30 billion to $55 billion.
 
A team from Britain, Sweden, and Germany calculated that costs usually come in at least 45 percent above initial estimates.
 
It's not as if Canada has demonstrated a special knack for running trains.
 
VIA survives on federal handouts, running ageing trains along subsidized networks at a cost to Ottawa of $73 per passenger in 2015.
 
The region to be served by Wynne's super-train is the most heavily populated in the country, but also the target of billions of dollars in federal and provincial transit plans that, if we believe what we've been told, will alleviate the chronic gridlock that makes commuting a nightmare and has pushed housing costs beyond reach.
 
The super-train would travel the same route and serve many of the same communities already on a provincial list for expanded GO Train service, the cost for which is already straining the provincial treasury.
 
With VIA in tow, the region could potentially have three train operations simultaneously losing money on the same routes.
 
Collenette's report acknowledges there's no real business case to be made for running the line past London.
 
Serving Windsor (population 329,000) could only be sold "on socio-economic and regional development grounds."
 
It suggests delaying that leg until "international connections to the United States rail system through Detroit to Chicago are considered and planned."
 
So... never.
 
None of this discourages the misty-eyed visionaries at Ontario's legislature, who foresee vast revenues flowing in as the world seizes on the dynamic prospects of travel across a province that still hasn't managed to fully synchronize its regional GO system with its biggest city's transit network, despite years of effort.
 
"In 2041," it projects, "over 10 million travellers annually are forecast to use HSR and the service will capture an 11 percent mode share in the corridor, taking more than five million cars off of Southwestern Ontario's highways."
 
This from a province that can't keep to budget forecasts from one year to another, and where lumbering streetcars still serve some of Toronto's busiest downtown routes.
 
It's a Walt Disney world, where a magic wand makes government dreams come true.
 
Kelly McParland.

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