Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Ottawa switches tracks on funding rules to aid ‘Petit Train’

with one comment

Globe and Mail

Oh this story gives me problems. I like trains. I like steam trains even better. I think people who preserve railways and run them and bring in tourists are very smart.

I have never actually been on Le Petit Train. I suppose becuase whenever I have been to Ottawa, someone else was picking up the tab and I wasn’t there as a tourist. In fact I have never been in the Ottouais. So I would have liked to ride the train, but didn’t yet, though it now looks like I will be able to, thanks to some adjustments that have been made to a federal program to alow it to be funded.

the money comes from a federal program, called Major Economic and Tourism Facilities, that was created this year to fund projects in the poorest parts of Quebec.

While some areas of the Outaouais are covered by the program, the railway line is in a previously ineligible part of the region, much of it in the riding of Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

A senior official at Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, Marc Boily, said that in order to fund the steam train, the program’s criteria were redrawn by the agency’s previous Conservative minister, Jean-Pierre Blackburn. Mr. Boily said the decision to change the program’s criteria came after Mr. Blackburn was informed about the problems faced by the 101-year-old train, which traverses a scenic route from Hull to the village of Wakefield in the Gatineau Hills.

Now, bending the rules to give money to Quebec is not exactly an innovation in Canadian politics. I am pretty sure that we worked a lot harder in Greater Vancouver to get our funding from the Urban Transportation Showcase Program, which in our case was multimodal and well thought out. Gatineau got the same amount to buy some hybrid buses. I somehow doubt they spent much on the justification for that.

And for a Conservative government to be doing this sort of stuff – just as they did in Peterborough with the “pork barrel express” (ibid) – well of course you can expect the opposition to make the most of it.

Wakefield Steam Train

Wakefield Steam Train by Steph & Adam on flickr CC

Couple of nitpicks. The train was apparently built in Sweden in 1907. Now Canada held on to steam locos long after they had mostly vanished from the US, so if you go for a ride on a steam train down there it is often an old CN or CP loco at the head of the train. So if I am going to go for a tourist train ride in Canada I would like the train to be a restored loco and cars from one of our railways, please.

Secondly, why is it that we can find money for tourist trains but not real trains? For much less money we could have the second Amtrak train running to Seattle now – and that’s important for all sorts of reasons, especially since the investment in track upgrades and new sidings is done, and it is only the Border Services Agency’s demand for cash to put on an extra shift Pacific Central that is holding things up. For nearly a year now!

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Posted in politics, Railway

One Response

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  1. I was a member for 12 years of the Great Western (Gods wonderful railway) Society in Didcot, England. Even the ‘broadgauge’ is alive and well there!

    Preserved railways are not just fun, operated by steam ‘freaks’, rather a serious business undertaking by not just steam or diesel enthusiasts, but people interested in the science and history of freight cars, passenger cars, signaling, etc.

    Preserved railways are a massive tourist draw; in India, where the Darjeeling light railway, climbing the foothills of the Himalayas, is responsible of about 10% of foreign tourist dollars coming into the country.

    England, the birthplace of the preserved railway, boasts well over 100 such operations and is the model for preserved railways in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.

    Sadly, this aspect of tourism has all but been ignored, yet Canada could operate many preserved railways in very scenic areas. Sadly, our tourist dollars are spent on Whistler and alike and can be a reason that BC is becoming less and less of a tourist destination.

    Malcolm J.

    November 10, 2008 at 3:59 pm


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