How high speed rail has revived small town Spain | Planning Pool

How high speed rail has revived small town Spain | Planning Pool.

AVE trainsets at Madrid Atocha - photo by Sean Munson
AVE trainsets at Madrid Atocha - photo by Sean Munson

Here’s more on high speed rail.  If rail were to become part of the Pacific Northwest landscape, it could change the way smaller towns compete economically.

The Wall Street Journal printed an article last Monday about the success of the Spanish high speed passenger rail network, named AVE (meaning both Spanish high speed and bird). It’s the kind of epic, transformative project that requires not only billions of dollars but also the will of an entire nation. Only a decade and a half has passed since the first line from Madrid to Seville was inaugurated, but Spain is now beginning to see the long-term benefits. And judging from their successes, it’s exactly the kind of the stimulus that Canada needs.

It’s nice to see that a big paper like the Wall Street Journal supporting the economic arguments for high speed rail.  Obviously, the effects of these rail lines are not immediate.  If we look at SkyTrain on a smaller scale, we’re only started seeing the huge benefits of concentrated growth along the SkyTrain line in the past 10 years.  The first decade of SkyTrain saw slow growth and development.  However, things have burgeoned around the many of the stations now.

The most remarkable thing about the AVE has been that it has resuscitated (reincarnated?) the economies of the smaller cities and towns along the lines that have been given stations. The distances between these towns and major centres have been significantly shortened. By extension, they’ve become much more competitive. Not only that, but they’ve done so in a sustainable manner. Building a freeway has similar effects but creates traffic congestion, air pollution and distorts the shape of the city. Rather than being centered around a vibrant, walkable core with a train station taking people in and out, freeway development is car oriented, linear, spread out, and generally a waste of resources.

Freeway development is generally a waste of resources.  That’s a pretty strong statement and flies in the face of our current thinking in the Lower Mainland.  We want to have more freeways to get ourselves out of the traffic jams, but do freeways truly create the kind of places where we live, work, and play?

In Canada, we’re still looking at the Quebec City-Montreal-Kingston-Toronto-Windsor corridor as having the highest potential for high speed rail.  It already has some existing rail infrastructure and existing rail ridership.  It would serve a huge chunk of the Canadian population and two of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.  There just needs to be the political will to move forward on this kind of plan.

In Vancouver, we could piggy back on the American plans to create a high speed rail corridor from Eugene, OR northwards to us in British Columbia.  Again, the big sticking point will be the border and customs.  However, I would love to ride my bike to the train station, hop on the train to either Seattle or Portland, ride around town to take in the sights and then hop back on home.  Too ideal?  Probably.  But we need a vision to aim for and that would be my vision of a day trip on a high speed rail line in Cascadia.

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