A planned federal investment of $300-million in passenger rail service between Toronto and Montreal represents only a small step toward the modernization of Canadian railways. But it is a welcome example of how the government should be investing infrastructure dollars during the current recession.
Following Ottawa's criteria for stimulus spending, the rail work is scheduled to be completed by 2011 - creating jobs at a time when they are scarce. But it is not merely make-work. The addition of new tracks in stretches prone to bottlenecks will allow for more frequent service and significantly reduce delays - making rail a more attractive option for travellers in Canada's busiest corridor, and potentially increasing travel between the country's two largest metropolises.
Gary Goodyear, the junior minister who made yesterday's announcement, hastened to add that the new investment does not preclude a high-speed rail link in Ontario and Quebec - an investment that the federal and provincial governments will need to make if they are serious about getting large numbers of people out of their cars. The government should pursue with equal enthusiasm a high-speed link in Alberta, particularly since there is at present no passenger service between Calgary and Edmonton at all. But it cannot neglect existing routes in favour of more ambitious options that are still at least a decade away. Unlike some of the other infrastructure projects announced this year, this investment will have value well past the end of the recession.