TORONTO, Ontario – Canada urgently needs a long-term strategy to address looming capacity constraints in the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, Rob Ritchie, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Pacific Railway, said here Dec. 5.
“Let’s resolve here and now to make the improvement and sustainability of Canada’s transportation infrastructure a national priority,” Ritchie said in a speech to the Toronto Railway Club. “This is a great gift that our government and business leaders can give to future generations of Canadians.”
He called on federal, provincial and civic leaders to develop “a new, collective vision” for an efficient, integrated and sustainable transportation infrastructure to support the productivity and competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
He said Canada’s transportation industry wants to work with all levels of government to build a seamless network encompassing ports, freight and commuter rail, and roads.
“We need this to strengthen the nation’s competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world. The transportation industry has a vision but we cannot do it alone.”
While shipping volumes are growing, Ritchie contends, there are limits to further growth of the highway system. Meanwhile, the expansion of the nation’s railway system is being constrained by punitive taxation and outdated regulation.
“This situation is already past the stage where it should be acceptable to the citizens of Canada and to our policy makers,” Ritchie said.
“We as a nation have to ask our policy makers: Must we wait until we get to a serious crisis point and capacity crunch in our transportation infrastructure before we address the problem? I hope we have the intelligence to deal with this issue before it seriously harms our economy.”
As far as the railway industry is concerned, Ritchie said Canadian policy makers should be nurturing and encouraging railways as a “strategic national asset.”
“A strong Canadian rail industry is part of the solution to many large policy issues such as the quality of life in urban centers and border security and efficiency,” he said.
All levels of government need to take a more holistic view of the Canadian transportation landscape and think beyond building more roads and highways, Ritchie said. “Paving over more Ontario farmland is not a solution to (the province’s) pollution and gridlock problems. Rail must be part of the solution. As a nation, we can no longer afford to take rail for granted.”
Railways need to maximize their ability to reinvest in their infrastructure to accommodate future growth and therefore “we need radical changes to regulation, taxation and public policy to ensure rail can meet the capacity demands of a growing economy.”
In the absence of taxation reform, Canada should make more public investments in the nation’s rail infrastructure through public-private partnerships or P3s, he said.
In Ontario, with a $2-billion investment through a P3 with various levels of government, “we could take more than a million trucks off the 401 – that’s about one quarter of the long-haul trucks currently chewing up the asphalt on the Montreal-Toronto-Windsor corridor – and put their trailers onto an expanded intermodal service. For taxpayers, this is a much cheaper, smarter alternative to expanding the highway infrastructure – and it could be done in four to five years.
“Simultaneously, we would improve the efficiency of the trucking industry and solve some of the traffic congestion and pollution problems in Montreal and Toronto. We would make the Canadian economy more productive and efficient and provide VIA Rail an opportunity to expand high-speed inter-city passenger rail service.”