Transportation and Nation Building

We recently completed a journey by VIA train from Vancouver to Kingston, ON in the ‘Blue and Silver’, a premium (according to VIA) experience.

The human landscapes we passed through were testimonies both to the natural beauties of Canada and the role of a good transportation network in populating and integrating a country. All along the way we were reminded of how this network is crumbling. Huge areas were settled due to the railways. And a glance at the map or attempt to find an airline schedule will show how limited access is to many of these settled areas through other modes of travel. But the railway continues to distance itself from passenger service — major cities are no longer serviced by rail (My son lives in Thunder Bay — you can drive there or fly but the closest train stop is over 100km away). VIA uses CP trackage for its service instead of CN — which means that many urban areas are bypassed and those that are serviced are conveniently accessed from well outside of town, a great convenience I am sure to the non-car owner.

And if the latest news about bus service (a mainstay of the budget traveler) being pulled out of western Ontario and the prairies is true then some of these areas will simply be cut off.

I suspect this is all a result of the continuing delusion of the market as universal decider . Transportation networks are allowed to drop service to populated areas if that service is not sufficiently profitable. This is national necrosis in action — cutting off circulation to an area means that it will eventually die. If it cannot support (on its own) a less expensive form of transportation, it should come as no surprise that more expensive modes will also not be supported.

What interests me is thinking over the long term what the result will be of this necrosis to the nation of Canada as it allows parts of itself to die off — indeed deliberately killed. How does this impact the national character? And how will this affect our ability to utilize our national resources — no, not the rocks and trees but the creativity and hard work of the people?

I would think that maintaining good, economic transportation links to all parts of the country would be a priority for building national identity and a strong economy. Even if some individual parts of this landscape did not pay their own way. This is certainly the argument around arctic sovereignty — if we leave those areas isolated our argument that they are a vital part of the country is pretty weak. Does this same logic not extend to the rest of the country as well? And by extension to differentiating Canada from the US? 


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