Infrastructure should be national priority: CPR Chief

by Canadian Shipper

Canada urgently needs a long-term infrastructure strategy to address looming capacity constraints, said Rob Ritchie, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Pacific Railway.

“Let’s resolve here and now to make the improvement and sustainability of Canada’s transportation infrastructure a national priority. This is a great gift that our government and business leaders can give to future generations of Canadians," said Ritchie in a speech to the Toronto Railway Club December 5.

But Ritchie called for a more holistic view of the Canadian transportation landscape, one moving beyond building more roads and highways and one that would harness more rail services.

“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," he said.

While shipping volumes are growing, there are limits to further growth of the highway system, noted Ritchie. Meanwhile, he said, 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outdated regulation.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-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.”

Railways should be viewed as a “strategic national asset”, said Ritchie, and " part of the solution to many large policy issues such as the quality of life in urban centres and border security and efficiency."

Railways, meanwhile, 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," said Ritchie.

He called for more public investments in the nation’s rail infrastructure through public-private partnerships or P3s, he said, especially for expansion of intermodal services.

"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," said Ritchie.

“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.”

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