Canadian Geographic
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Tracking rail

High-speed rail

High-speed passenger rail was pioneered in Canada. The TurboTrain, built by Montreal Locomotive Works, began operating between Montréal and Toronto in 1968. The high-speed tilting train was capable of speeds of up to 275 kilometres per hour. But the low-tech tracks could safely handle only about half that speed, rendering the train little faster than driving. VIA pulled the underused Turbo from service in 1982.

Today, Canada is the only G8 nation without high-speed rail.

China’s high-speed rail network carries about 800,000 passengers a day at speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour. Japan’s “bullet trains” transport 410,000 people a day, while France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) moves 268,000. Altogether, high-speed trains now dash across more than a dozen nations, including Spain, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and Belgium.

The restoration of high-speed rail along the Québec-Windsor corridor (1,150 kilometres) has been studied at least 16 times since 1973. The most recent high-level intergovernmental study was initiated in February 2009.

There is also interest in developing a TGV-type route between Calgary and Edmonton. A 2004 study concluded that the 300-kilometre line not only would repay its capital cost within 30 years but would return up to $6.1 billion in economic growth. How fast is high-speed rail? In 1886, it took six days for the first passenger train to make the 4,600-kilometre journey from Montréal to Port Moody, B.C. (just east of Vancouver). VIA Rail’s signature train, the Canadian, travels from Montréal to Vancouver in four days. A team of motorists driving non-stop could complete the trip in two days. A high-speed train would be there in one.


This piece features an interactive, animated diagram that highlights the travel-time differences between high-speed rail and other modes of transportation.


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Quiz :

When was the first truly intermodal container system created?