The Future of Transportation: Putting Rail Back on the Fast Track

Like everyone else, I will begin this short letter with “in the past year”. The phrase is getting redundant, but it is appropriate…

“In the past year, I have been truly impressed by the collaborative capacity we demonstrated. We’ve fought an all-out war with an unprecedented spirit of collaboration.

As an optimist, this is the observation that always comes to mind when I think about what we have experienced over the last 20 months, and when I think about the future.

We cannot, however, ignore the collateral effects of the crisis, including the impact on public transportation networks. The decline in ridership on public networks, particularly rail networks, has been dramatic.

The future will require higher levels of collaboration to address one of the few issues that has not changed in the past year, which is the fight against climate change, and the need to shift to a more sustainable, low-carbon way of living.

To meet this challenge, we will have to re-balance our overloaded modes of transport which are currently dominated by planes and cars, and will need to give Canadians more environmentally friendly transportation options through passenger rail systems.

Back to the future, on board the train
If there are still skeptics about the importance of transitioning our economy to a more sustainable structure, a quick overview of the data should suffice: in Canada, the transportation sector accounts for 23% of all GHG emissions. In Quebec, it is responsible for over 40% of all GHG emissions .

On average, rail transport emits 3 to 4 times less GHGs than a truck or thermal bus to move the same volume of goods or the same number of people.

In other words, every time a commodity moves from road to rail, and every time a citizen switches from car to train, it is a victory for our collective fight against climate change.

The quality paradigm in transportation

To date, the quality of a transportation service is generally evaluated on four criteria: reliability in terms of punctuality and frequency, speed, comfort and safety. This is what makes a new car a better choice for getting around than a bus service that doesn’t arrive on time, runs on bumpy roads and gets stuck in traffic.

With the transition to a more sustainable economy, we must adjust our quality paradigm and consider the ecological cost of solutions. This will allow us to assess the real value of transportation services, and incidentally, to bring rail back to the forefront of the range of services available to us.

In short, once the ecological footprint of transportation modes is considered, public transportation, and especially structuring systems that promote sustainable land use, are infinitely more advantageous.

To sum it up, governments across Canada need to get back to rail. And they need to get moving quickly.

Accelerate the development of our networks

Municipalities need to act now, especially to take advantage of the federal Zero Emission Transit Fund. It takes several years to plan, build and operate a sustainable transportation system. We will be there very quickly by 2030. Achieving our environmental goals will only happen if we act now.

Just as we built highways and viaducts in the 1970s, we need to build modern passenger trains and networks that will transport Canadians in the most environmentally efficient way possible. Rail is the key to making this transition.

Of course, the pandemic has caused a significant loss of ridership. But urbanization, population growth and the fight against climate change are expected to nearly triple the demand for public transit over the next 30 years, from 44 trillion to 122 trillion passenger miles.

To provide the impetus to get a social project of this magnitude off the ground, governments must rely on public-private partnerships. Such partnerships will allow the immense potential of private capital to be channeled into infrastructure projects that will benefit entire communities.

Ready for action

On this front, Siemens Mobility Canada has just given a powerful boost to the Canadian rail transportation industry by finalizing our acquisition of Canadian company RailTerm, on July 2,2021. A North American leader in rail maintenance, control and monitoring of railway systems and networks, RailTerm is one of the behind-the-scenes heroes that make our rail networks reliable and efficient.

We are very pleased to bring this marriage to fruition, which will allow us to combine the power of Siemens Mobility’s technology and innovations with RailTerm’s on-the-ground experience and local knowledge of Canada’s vast rail networks, to offer rail systems that are more reliable, safer, and more available than ever before.

Most importantly, we will be on the front lines of building infrastructure across the country and getting our company back on track with rail transportation.

Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, CEO, Siemens Mobility in Canada