Time to think about future transportation

McCaughrin is referring to U.S. government regulations on passenger rail cars, which force them to resemble “bank vaults on wheels.”

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“What if the FAA required that jet aircraft be able to survive crashes into the ground?”

— Eric McCaughrin

McCaughrin is referring to U.S. government regulations on passenger rail cars, which force them to resemble “bank vaults on wheels.”

They are twice as heavy as their European counterparts because of the slight chance that they might crash into a freight train … even if (like the Long Island Commuter Railroad) there are never any freight trains on the tracks.

I was thinking about passenger rail car weights, because I recently attended the public input session on a possible high-speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary.

And one of the presenters (from the general public) thought that it would be a great idea if these high-speed rail cars would not only be able to accommodate passengers, but also their automobiles.

So you would be able to drive your Hummer into a rail car and then head to the viewing coach (somewhat like one of the B.C. ferries) to enjoy the scenery rapidly passing by at anywhere from 300 to 500 km/h. Hmm. If you thought that a U.S. passenger rail car was heavy, think how heavy this thing would need to be.

There was also some other nonsense presented. How about a double-wide freight train (presumably on double-wide tracks) to go to Fort McMurray with the “wide loads” that we sometimes see on Hwy 2? Or perhaps a separate, toll-operated Autobahn highway for those among us who own Ferraris and Maseratis?

But once the mirth subsided, there were serious concerns. In particular, there were the folks living in and among the smaller communities (i.e. Innisfail, Didsbury, etc.) who would have to contend with the extra noise and the extra barriers to conventional traffic that such a system would entail.

The 2004 Van Horne study states that for the cheaper, 200 km/h version of high-speed rail, there would be a need to construct 46 new grade separations.

This would mean fewer annoying whistles at midnight, and an average of a grade separation every six km or so (if you’re unsure what a grade separation looks like, just head west from Red Deer College about a kilometre and you’ll travel over top of one without even realizing it).

Another concern brought up was that government money would be used to foot the bill. It would be far better, it was thought, if we would instead just build another Hwy 2 using … um … government money. And lest you think that a mere six lanes would be needed, let’s just remember that the six lanes by Leduc and Airdrie are already fairly congested.

I think everyone who attended the event would agree that by far the most applause during the evening was reserved for an articulate young farmer by the name of Tony Jeglum, who insisted that no matter what the province decides to do, the time to start buying right-of-way is now … or even better, yesterday.

That shows that people fully realize that something has to be done about transportation. And that something can’t merely kowtow to the ideology of more and more cars and more and more congestion. At some point, we have to realize that the world is finite.

And at some point, we also have to ask ourselves why the price of oil — adjusted for inflation — is more than three times what it was 10 years ago. And we should also ask why, according to Forbes Magazine, oil exploration costs are rising at an even faster rate than the price of oil is rising.

The answer is that we’re running out of the easily available stuff. We’re now literally mining the dregs.

So by the time it gets built, we won’t need the gold-plated, 300 km/h version of high-speed rail. The rising cost of gasoline will force us to give up our steel cages for some of the longer trips.

But we will need to do something. And the fact remains that a diesel train at 200 km/h (the Van Horne silver-plated version), fully loaded with passengers, gets 10 times better fuel mileage (per person) than does a single occupant in a Ranger Rover going only 100 km/h.

And the diesel train is also frugal with regard to land purchases needed for the new right-of-way. Compared to the 300 km/h electric version, it is anywhere from five to 13 times more frugal (and as AltaLink showed us, land purchases can be a headache).

So it’s time to wake up. We need to quit dreaming about a future where our neighbour is George Jetson. And we also need to quit dreaming about Autobahns and Ferraris.

Evan Bedford is a local environmentalist. Direct comments, questions and suggestions to wyddfa23@telus.net. Visit the Energy and Ecology website at www.evanbedford.com.

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