Around Canada

A column published by The National Post says Toronto has a fetish for
streetcars and what the city really needs is more rapid transit subways to
make it a world class urban area. The commentary compares Toronto with London and its Tube system:
Every city with aspirations for greatness insists on good transit, and subways are typically at the top of the wish list – unless it’s Toronto.
We’re burdened with a fetish for streetcars. Visit London and ride the Tube and it’s clear how amateur Toronto is in this department. London is London, of course, a bigger, richer, older city. But this doesn’t excuse Toronto’s transit backwardness, and the squandered millions on dedicated streetcar
lines that make main roads awkward for cars and pedestrians. Ride subways in New York (a bit grungy but efficient), Barcelona and Paris and you wonder where we went wrong. What TTC honcho, mayor or consultant had romantic delusions about streetcars, and inflicted a mode of transit now only popular in second-tier towns and struggling formerly Communist countries?
It’s not only streetcars that have derailed us. There’s our phobia for urban density that has, until recently, made transit less cost efficient; a belief that if we made using cars difficult, people would use transit; and an assumption that bikes could solve our transit deficiencies if streetcars
London’s Tube system is remarkable. The staggering investment being made now to upgrade it prior to the Olympics next year is creating a marvel. Many of the major stations have been rebuilt, most notably St. Pancras, which has had a reported $1-billion investment. Of the 270 stops on the London subway system, most are in good condition, and the ones that aren’t are scheduled
for maintenance. Many of Toronto’s are tawdry by comparison. It’s not all perfect, but it’s easy to get around London on the Tube. Unless you have difficulty with the two or three escalators that take you down to some mineshaft-deep platforms (the underground is really underground), and the
narrowness of the cars (they do feel like tubes), you won’t have an issue
with using transit in London.
London’s transit system helps it be a vital city. Since it’s an old city with narrow streets, it makes it possible for neighbourhoods to be retained because you’re not widening lanes for cars. It also makes it possible for middleclass people to work downtown and commute 30 minutes to an affordable
area, yet not be car-dependant. There are lots of young people on London’s most fashionable streets. I doubt they live there, in the most expensive real estate in the world, but they work and party there, and then take the Tube home. And, yes, they have an “Oyster” card system we haven’t been able
to figure out yet, and The Tube is affordable if you use one. They must be discouraging single-ticket purchase as it is costly.
London’s Tube system expands with efficient buses, new “over ground” rail lines and a commuter train – links that can have you to your country place in Kent in about an hour. Cabs are also part of the system and quite different than the awful experiences you often have in Toronto. London cab
drivers know the city well, and are trained and tested so they do, unlike the cabbie I had last week who didn’t know where a major Toronto intersection was. London cabbies are courteous professionals. Cabs are clean and they have the advantage of being purpose built. No one pretends that regular cars make good cabs.
It’s not too late for us in Toronto. Maybe we’ll transform the King Street streetcar line into a subway and let development intensify along its route. Let’s look to cities that are truly urban for our inspiration, make the enormous and long-term investment in transit that is the prerequisite for future vitality, and discipline the TTC so it stops being an apologist for mediocrity.

“Light rail system nothing new for the capital region
By Jim Hume, Times Colonist, June 12, 2011

It’s “back to the future” in Victoria, the Vancouver Island capital city of the
province of British Columbia. It once had street railway service and now it’s
poised for revival in the form of a $950 million light rail line to link
downtown Victoria with suburban Langford to the west.
I arrived in Victoria in June 1948, just in time to watch the last electric
street car rattle away into the sunset a month later on July 5. With a bit of
luck, I hope to be around when the new breed of tram, hopefully running a little
more silently than its predecessor and now called light rail, rolls down Douglas
Street heading for the western suburbs and – dare we dream? – eventually to the
airport and the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.

If the powers that be can get light rail up and running by 2015, it would mark a
full-circle trip it’s taken 125 years to complete.

Light rail clanked down city streets for the first time on Feb. 22, 1890, the
proud child of the National Electric Tramway and Light Company, a company inspired by none other than Colonist editor David William Higgins. On hand that cool February day were Lt.-Gov. Hugh Nelson and Premier John Robson and a large crowd of civic dignitaries to witness what was one of the most remarkable inventions of the ages – electric power.

Editor Higgins was later to eloquently report in his newspaper that as the
February day folded into a gloomy West Coast evening, “the [tram] cars were
brilliantly illuminated and, filled with passengers, dashed through the streets
in busy metropolitan style, the admiration of all lovers of enterprise,
convenience and progress.” In 2011 we may well smile at such eloquence, but we must remember that what Higgins and others were witnessing was a miracle of the times – with the first electricity-powered public transit vehicle in British
Columbia, proudly ahead of upstart rival cities Vancouver and New Westminster on the mainland.

Vancouver got rolling electrically in June 1890, and New Westminster in October
1891, when the Westminster and Vancouver Tramway company opened its “inter-urban” light rail link through the mostly uninhabited forest and brush
separating the two communities.

But proud though all three cities were to be leaders in the public transit
field, and eager to embrace the latest inventions, they couldn’t weather the
economic downturn that ushered out the 1800s. After just a few years of
operating, all three tramway companies declared bankruptcy and the systems were saved only when Victoria businessman Frank S. Barnard and British financier Robert Horne-Payne reorganized the trio as the Consolidated Railway Company.

That bright moment of salvation took place in 1896 – less than a month before
the disaster of May 26, which saw a street car overloaded with families
celebrating the May 24 holiday plunge from a collapsing Point Ellice Bridge (Bay Street Bridge) into the harbour. Fifty five people died that day, many of them women and children. A coroner’s jury condemned Consolidated for allowing the street car to be overloaded and the city of Victoria for failing to make sure the bridge was safe.

Consolidated declared bankruptcy, but once again emerged under the leadership of Barnard and Horne-Payne as the British Columbia Electric Railway Company, and Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria were again in the light-rail business with Victoria in expansion mood.

Growth was strong, demand so high that a car construction plant was opened in
New Westminister.

Before that plant got into full operation, the arrival of new street cars was
cause for admiring pride as the Colonist demonstrated when it reported “the new
[tram] car that made its appearance on Fort Street yesterday was a source of
great interest to the travelling public and many were the admiring comments made thereon.” The report went on to praise the new design for keeping two things in mind – “absolute safety and the greatest possible comfort to passengers . the cars are beautifully furnished . the seats being of oak and upholstered in rattan.lights have been placed, one between each two seats to enable passengers to read their newspapers . and there is also at each seat an electric button to call the conductor.”

All very civilized – and all soon to disappear as first the trams gave way to
the bus and the bus to the personal automobile. The streetcar became obsolete and all rail connections (there used to be three) between Victoria and Deep Cove (Sidney) and their original rights of way were allowed to disappear. From our lofty hindsight vantage point, we can only wonder how that was allowed to happen, and consider how wonderful it would be today if we could hop on a
light-rail car downtown and hop off at ferry or air terminals – or any point in
between – a matter of minutes later.

But that day is coming, and if the planners and the politicians get their act
together I might be around to ride on the inaugural run and tell readers how we
“dashed through the streets in busy metropolitan style . lovers of enterprise,
convenience and progress.” Hey, dreams can come true, you know.

British Columbia Electric Railway operated 4-wheel Birneys at Victoria:
The system also had larger double-truck cars:
One of Victoria’s cars is operational but at Nelson:
Here’s a page about the Birney’s preservation:


The CPR and Marathon Realty sold off much of this land and made millions in profits

I think you are blaming the wrong people….the E & N railway was supposed to be maintained in perpetuity by the Dunsmuir company and later purchasers in exchange for over 1 million acres of land on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The CPR and Marathon Realty sold off much of this land and made millions in profits all the while ignoring the line and requesting approval for abandonment every few years, showing no profit on the line, etc. until they eventually got approval and then eventually an emotional buyer in the name of our local governments! At least our local treaty group is going after the lands now owned by a timber company. The CPR should not have got away with this so lightly and now we have emotional politicians trying to save the Kinsol trestle and the commuter rail service all under the guise that some tourist out there might like to use it! It’s

too late people, ring the bell, abandon the rail line. For you politicians out there, how about using the transportation budget a little more cleverly and maybe modernly even……commuter train nonsense….even the bus can’t make a go of it!”

Walter Cordery: Premier’s E&N idea is lacking

Walter Cordery, The Daily News

Published:Ai??Friday, May 20, 2011

Let’s hope it was just a slip. I’m talking about Premier Christy Clark’s assertion on a televised news report that the proposed Raven Coal Mine in the Comox area “would be a huge source of revenue for the E&N Railway.”

I’m sure that proponents of the Island Corridor Foundation like the Regional District of Nanaimo, the cities of Nanaimo and Parksville and the town of Qualicum Beach, all instrumental in establishing the foundation, found her comment reassuring.

Unfortunately, Clark appears to be more sizzle than substance much like ex-premier Bill Vander Zalm. She also seems to have inherited his penchant from shooting from the lip without knowing what he was talking about.

When it comes to the Raven Mine plan, the railway would have to build a spur line to the proposed site, something the ICF doesn’t have the money for.

Also the company has decided it plans to truck the coal from the mine to Port Alberni. It explains this in its environmental impact statement, saying “trucking has been identified as the preferred option for the transport of coal from the mine site to the port facility.”

The submission goes on to say that a “rail line is not currently technically and economically feasible.”

Not only that but B.C. has yet to determine if the mine’s environmental impact statement can be verified. Raven has yet to receive provincial and federal approval to start operations. And if local opposition to the plan is any indication, that could be a long-time coming. The E&N railway is in need of major repair so how does Clark think it could transport tonnes of coal?

As NDP MLA for Alberni, Pacific Rim Scott Fraser told me: “The Liberals have done nothing to ensure our Island railway remains a viable option for residents, tourists and industry alike.

“The premier’s assertion that a coal mine could somehow help our railway recover from a decade of Liberal neglect is bizarre.”

Unfortunately, I think he’s correct.

Clark’s statement was made while she was talking to residents of the Comox Valley and it appears she believed it was an easy way to score easy political points.

We’ve got an unusable railway line that has shut down the Dayliner’s operations since March 19 and a company that plans to truck its coal to Port Alberni and would need a spur line before it would consider rail. I’ve got to agree with Fraser when he asks: “How will this unapproved coal mine bring huge benefits to the E&N Railway?”

He believes the province must come forward with funding for the ICF in order to persuade Ottawa to contribute to the railway.

If Clark wants to see economic benefits to the E&N, her government is going to have to put some money into it first.

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