It was Jean Drapeau, a great visionary but poor manager, who started the ball rolling in the mid-1980s: building a high-speed train (TGV) between Montreal and New York and, why not, between Montreal and Boston. The Americans saw no interest in it. But this dream is tough and regularly comes to the surface as soon as we talk about sustainable mobility. The announcement of a high frequency train (TGF) between Quebec and Toronto has therefore brought up to date the absence of a means of rail transport in Canada that is public, efficient, fast and “environmental”. And the editorialists and analysts of the press hastened to shout haro on the donkey, claiming that only a TGV would allow Canada to acquire a means of transport worthy of the name and able to compete with the plane between Montreal and Toronto. The speed of movement seems to be at the heart of their reasoning.

But if we push this logic to the end, it is not a TGV technology of the last century that Canada needs, but a technology of the XXI.e century of which Musk’s Hyperloop is the perfect prototype: imagine going to Toronto in 40 minutes or Quebec in 20 minutes!

Let’s fix one thing quickly: Canada is one of the few places in the world where there are no dedicated passenger rails. Here, it is the reign of the transport of the goods and the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific, which have Canadian only the name, are the owners and masters of the clocks. Now, what is the primary quality of a passenger train? Leave and arrive on time! This is not possible for VIA Rail, which is literally subject to the transportation imperatives and business plans of CN and CP.

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Let’s fix something else too: Freight trains and passenger trains in Canada all run on diesel, an outdated motive power that emits huge amounts of GHGs. In the context of the climate crisis and in the post-pandemic context, a TGV no longer has any competitive advantages over a TGF. We are not talking about the construction costs of the line or the stations, and even less of the operating and maintenance costs: they are abysmal in the case of a Canadian TGV, if only because of the low density of population and the harsh climate of some winters. We are not even talking about GHG emissions: a TGF will run on electricity, reducing GHG emissions by almost 95% on a Quebec City-Toronto corridor. We are not talking more about competition with the plane: who still wants to make a round trip by plane from Montreal to Toronto in the same day when a simple Zoom allows you to sleep well at night, not to have to arrive in advance at the airport, not to wait on the tarmac for an indefinite period of time (especially when returning from Toronto at the end of the afternoon), in short, to make a good balance between pajamas and work …

The arrival of a TGF finally makes it possible to offer rails reserved for passenger transport, and therefore to guarantee departures and arrivals on time, to strengthen the notion of sustainable mobility and intermodality, to increase the number of trains in the same day, to better serve currently neglected cities – and which would be even more so with a TGV – and therefore to make train travel more accessible and at more affordable costs for Canadian citizens.

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As former French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said in a documentary, “experts and intellectuals live in perfection. Me [comme premier ministre], I only live in imperfection on a daily basis ”.

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