The rail paradox
Letus imagine that Rediker transport has to use its own highways to run its trucks across Canada and the USA. And that Daniel Roy must do the same with his trucks, unless he bargains with Rediker or another highway owner. Everybody would find this ridiculous. Yet, this is the railroad way and the Lac Mégantic tragedy is the end result of a mad system gone deadly.
You are lucky not to have partaken in yesterday’s media teleconference given by Transport Canada. Not often is sixty minutes taken up by sixty seconds of questions and tens of answers. The main one being: Why on earth is Maine, Montreal and Atlantic railway, one of the two (you read right) railroad companies allowed to man (as in one) trains with a sole engineer. The other one being the heaviest train on the planet: the iron ore Quebec North Shore & Labrador Railway, which doesn’t cross too many towns during its lonely run amidst the boreal forest.
Lac Mégantic was built around the railroad and they are lucky to still have one. Railroads are the most efficient ways of transporting goods on land. They are highly versatile, they can carry people, merchandise, bulk of almost anything, wheat, ore, name it, and from almost day one: Petroleum.
Safely. And the more a line carries, the more profitable it is and better managed it should be. It is the economic incentive of all long term businesses to reinvest in its infrastructure to be more efficient and profitable. We wrote “long term”, by the way. To a limit.
In the case of railroads, as we stated at the onset, private ownership of the rails is hardly comprehensible, when its main competition is state owned. Planes may be privately held, the airports are not, same with ports. And the direct competitor of a lot of train load is the highway. Owned and operated by the government; how is a different question. Close by, the Quebec Central line is owned by the Quebec government.
We believe that the outdated method of ownership of the rail system merits a real study by the Quebec government on the future of the industry in Quebec. Right now, because of the archaic nature of ownership, the whole of the Northern Plan put forward by former Premier Charest is in jeopardy because Canadian National will not even look at completing a study for a line in the Northern part of Quebec. This is absurd. And state ownership is not some sort of communist plot made in Quebec: Vermont is in the rail business through Vermont Rail.
We hope that the disaster at Lac Mégantic brings a much needed reflection on the subject of who owns the rails in Quebec and Canada. And a final word After months of being glued to the Charbonneau Commission and its gang of misfits, how nice it was to see the municipal world at its best. Lac Mégantic mayor,