Michael Bourque

As the Rail­way As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada cel­e­brates its 100th an­niver­sary in 2017—the same year Canada marks its sesqui­cen­ten­nial—it is re­flect­ing on the rail in­dus­try’s place in our coun­try’s his­tory and, as RAC Pres­i­dent and CEO Michael Bourque writes, taki

Policy - - In This Issue - Michael Bourque

The Next Spike

In a de­bate in the House of Com­mons in 1881, Sir John A. Mac­don­ald ar­tic­u­lated his vi­sion of Canada’s great fu­ture, built on the strength of its rail­ways. “I know we can ap­peal to the pa­tri­o­tism of the peo­ple of Canada,” he said. “We can tell them that we want a line that will con­nect Hal­i­fax with the Pa­cific Ocean.”

By means of “one great Cana­dian line,” car­ry­ing as much traf­fic as pos­si­ble north of the bor­der, Canada would build up cities like Mon­treal, Que­bec, Toronto, Hal­i­fax and St. John, he said. He ac­knowl­edged the enor­mous chal­lenges and ex­penses posed by build­ing over the Cana­dian Shield and through the Rocky, Selkirk and Coastal Moun­tains, but be­lieved in con­nect­ing “the great coun­ties com­pos­ing the Do­min­ion from sea to sea by one vast iron chain, which can­not and will never be bro­ken.”

It’s in­cred­i­ble to look back on Sir John A.’s re­marks and his fore­sight. He un­der­stood that the eco­nomic ben­e­fits to the lands in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of the rail­way—the “prairie sec­tion,” for ex­am­ple—would far out­weigh the $25 mil­lion price tag for build­ing the rail­way from coast to coast.

Less than five years later—at 9:22 a.m. on Nov. 7, 1885 in Craigel­lachie, B.C.—Don­ald Smith drove the Last Spike into the rail­way that would con­nect Canada’s pop­u­lated cen­tres in the East to the rel­a­tively un­pop­u­lated West. This mo­ment de­fined progress for Canada and stands as a sym­bol of a prom­ise that the coun­try would for­ever be linked by its rail­way net­work.

On Oct. 23, 2017, the Rail­way As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada (RAC) will of­fi­cially cel­e­brate its 100th an­niver­sary. As part of this cel­e­bra­tion, we are re­flect­ing on the rail in­dus­try’s con­tri­bu­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of Canada through­out the past cen­tury, in­form­ing peo­ple about new in­no­va­tions and tech­nolo­gies and, of course, imag­in­ing what the next 100 years will bring.

Our or­ga­ni­za­tion was es­tab­lished to en­sure the ef­fi­cient move­ment of troops and sup­plies dur­ing the First World War. Lo­gis­tics wins wars, and the timely de­ploy­ment of men and equip­ment by rail con­trib­uted to Canada’s cap­ture of Vimy Ridge in 1917. Like the cre­ation of Canada’s rail­way in­dus­try, this ac­com­plish­ment is cen­tral to the col­lec­tive un­der­stand­ing of our coun­try and rep­re­sents Cana­dian iden­tity and unity.

Be­cause the group—then called the Spe­cial Com­mit­tee on War and Na­tional De­fence—was so suc­cess­ful in ad­vanc­ing the in­ter­ests of rail­ways in Canada, it con­tin­ued its work be­yond the war and evolved into the as­so­ci­a­tion we are to­day.

Acen­tury af­ter our or­ga­ni­za­tion was cre­ated, we con­tinue to be a strong ad­vo­cate for

Canada’s rail sec­tor. To­day, Canada de­pends on rail as a safe and ef­fi­cient means of trans­port­ing goods and peo­ple. Ro­bust investments in lon­glast­ing, green in­fra­struc­ture show that we are an in­no­va­tive in­dus­try com­mit­ted to ser­vice, sus­tain­abil­ity and, most im­por­tantly, safety.

A cen­tury af­ter our or­ga­ni­za­tion was cre­ated, we con­tinue to be a strong ad­vo­cate for Canada’s rail sec­tor. To­day, Canada de­pends on rail as a safe and ef­fi­cient means of trans­port­ing goods and peo­ple. Ro­bust investments in long-last­ing, green in­fra­struc­ture show that we are an in­no­va­tive in­dus­try com­mit­ted to ser­vice, sus­tain­abil­ity and, most im­por­tantly, safety.

Canada’s freight rail sec­tor is the back­bone of our econ­omy. Do­mes­ti­cally, freight rail­ways trans­port more than $280 bil­lion worth of goods a year in Canada alone. In sup­port of Canada’s trade agenda, our rail­ways al­low Cana­dian busi­nesses to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally by help­ing to de­liver more than $150 bil­lion worth of ex­ports to mar­kets across North Amer­ica and around the globe. In fact, close to two thirds of our traf­fic crosses a bor­der or touches a port.

Cana­dian rail­ways also of­fer a com­fort­able, af­ford­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way to travel to close to 82 mil­lion pas­sen­gers each year. An av­er­age com­muter train, for ex­am­ple, takes 188 cars off the road. Ot­tawa’s rel­a­tively small O-Train, op­er­at­ing over about 8 kilo­me­tres of track, alone moves 2.1 mil­lion pas­sen­gers an­nu­ally. A high per­cent­age of these trav­el­ers would be in cars if it were not for the avail­abil­ity of this ser­vice.

By shift­ing more goods and pas­sen­gers to rail, the in­dus­try plays a key role in help­ing the en­vi­ron­ment by lim­it­ing harm­ful emis­sions and re­duc­ing road con­ges­tion. De­spite mov­ing mil­lions of pas­sen­gers and nearly 70 per cent of in­ter­city freight each year, our rail­ways pro­duce just one per cent of Canada’s green­house gas emis­sions—mak­ing rail one of our coun­try’s green­est trans­porta­tion op­tions. Rail is also ex­tremely ef­fi­cient. Canada’s freight rail­ways can move a tonne of goods more than 200 kilo­me­tres on just a sin­gle litre of fuel.

Our in­dus­try’s sus­tain­abil­ity into the fu­ture is in­tri­cately linked to our com­mit­ment to safety. Cana­dian rail­ways are al­ready among the safest in the world and get­ting safer. How­ever, rail ac­ci­dents over the past few years, both in Canada and the U.S., have served to heighten con­cerns for rail safety and es­pe­cially the trans­porta­tion of dan­ger­ous goods.

In re­sponse, rail­ways have fo­cused on ac­ci­dent pre­ven­tion, emer­gency pre­pared­ness and im­por­tantly, train­ing. Ef­forts in these ar­eas, cou­pled with sig­nif­i­cant investments in in­fra­struc­ture and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, en­hance safety across the rail net­work. Cap­i­tal investments made by Canada’s pri­vately owned and op­er­ated freight rail­ways have re­sulted not only in record ef­fi­cien­cies, but also world-lead­ing safety records. Even be­tween 2007 and 2009, dur­ing the great re­ces­sion, rail­ways in­vested close to 20 per cent of their rev­enues back into their net­works. These investments have re­sulted in sig­nifi-

cantly lower ac­ci­dent rates. Be­tween 2005 and 2015, Canada’s freight rail ac­ci­dent rate fell by more than 36 per cent, and stands at 2.2 ac­ci­dents per bil­lion gross tonne-kilo­me­tres. Safety is our in­dus­try’s top pri­or­ity and we strive to­ward zero ac­ci­dents.

Rail­ways have fo­cused on ac­ci­dent pre­ven­tion, emer­gency pre­pared­ness and im­por­tantly, train­ing. Ef­forts in these ar­eas, cou­pled with sig­nif­i­cant investments in in­fra­struc­ture and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, en­hance safety across the rail net­work. Cap­i­tal investments made by Canada’s pri­vately owned and op­er­ated freight rail­ways have re­sulted not only in record ef­fi­cien­cies, but also world-lead­ing safety records.

Canada’s rail­ways have also re­dou­bled their ef­forts to pre­pare for and re­spond to rail in­ci­dents. To­day, rail­ways pro­vide more than 660 Cana­dian com­mu­ni­ties with ag­gre­gate in­for­ma­tion about the dan­ger­ous goods that tran­sit through their ar­eas, to help first re­spon­ders pre­pare and plan. And over the past five years, RAC and its mem­bers have trained close to 29,000 rail­way em­ploy­ees, in­dus­trial plant per­son­nel and first re­spon­ders on dan­ger­ous goods han­dling and emer­gency re­sponse.

If Sir John A. were alive to­day to cel­e­brate Canada’s 150th birth­day he would wit­ness the re­al­iza­tion of his vi­sion. We can only imag­ine what he and the rest of Canada’s fore­fa­thers would think of our suc­cess in global trade. What would they think of Cana­dian rail­ways car­ry­ing Wy­oming coal and Saskatchewan potash to world mar­kets, or in­ter­modal ser­vice—goods trav­el­ling by ship from Asia to Van­cou­ver and Prince Ru­pert, and on­wards to Chicago and New Or­leans on Cana­dian rail­ways that also op­er­ate in the U.S.?

It would make Sir John A. proud to wit­ness a re­nais­sance of passenger rail and Cana­di­ans’ love af­fair with train travel, as ev­i­denced by the new com­muter rail­ways be­ing built in Mon­treal, Ot­tawa and Toronto. VIA Rail’s am­bi­tious plan for high-fre­quency in­ter­city ser­vice will fur­ther de­velop Canada’s pas­sion for rail trans­porta­tion.

It would make Sir John A. proud to wit­ness a re­nais­sance of passenger rail and Cana­di­ans’ love af­fair with train travel, as ev­i­denced by the new com­muter rail­ways be­ing built in Mon­treal, Ot­tawa and Toronto. VIA Rail’s am­bi­tious plan for high-fre­quency in­ter­city ser­vice will fur­ther de­velop Canada’s pas­sion for rail trans­porta­tion. No doubt Sir John A. would be de­lighted with the thou­sands of tourists who come to Canada to en­joy an un­beat­able view of our vast and beau­ti­ful land from the train.

Rail­ways are a proud part of Canada’s his­tory. One hun­dred and thirty-six years fol­low­ing Mac­don­ald’s speech in the House of Com­mons and 132 years af­ter Don­ald Smith drove the Last Spike, Canada’s rail­ways op­er­ate around the clock, 365 days a year, driv­ing the next spike for sup­ply chain com­pet­i­tive­ness, sus­tain­abil­ity and safety. Our com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment, the econ­omy and the com­mu­ni­ties through which we op­er­ate will con­tinue as we look to play an even big­ger role dur­ing the next 100 years.

Photo: Canada. Dept. of Na­tional De­fence / Li­brary and Archives Canada

Cana­dian rail­way work­ers build a rail­road through cap­tured ter­ri­tory dur­ing the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Photo: RAC

Cana­dian rail­ways of­fer a com­fort­able, af­ford­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way to travel to close to 82 mil­lion pas­sen­gers each year. An av­er­age com­muter train, for ex­am­ple, takes 188 cars off the road.

Photo: RAC

De­spite mov­ing nearly 70 per cent of in­ter­city freight each year, our rail­ways pro­duce just one per cent of Canada’s green­house gas emis­sions—mak­ing rail one of our coun­try’s green­est trans­porta­tion op­tions. Freight rail­ways can move a ton of goods more than 200 kilo­me­tres on just a sin­gle litre of fuel.

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