I commend MP Taylor Bachrach for his multi-day train travel from Toronto to British Columbia on many levels. Firstly, there is the pure enjoyment of such a trip: experiencing new social connections, endless landscapes and maybe a good book or magazine. Second, there is the ease of transportation that such a trip provides – I am not talking about time here – it surely takes much more time than flying – but the comfort of a wider chair, of taking a stroll up and down the aisles, a visit of the bar wagon or the viewing car.
More than 20 years ago, I travelled from Berlin to Shanghai by train. It took almost two weeks. Staying in the same compartment with 60 other travelers for 8 days and 9 nights with one bathroom (and one samovar for hot water) was not convenient and certainly not fast. There was no shower. Yet, I had the time of my life. When the Trans-Siberian pulled into the station of Irkutsk in eastern Russia, all 60 passengers – many of whom could not even speak the same languages – were one big family. We had a common experience, common joy and common suffering (the bathroom). We hugged and took a family picture, and we cried happy tears of farewell. You don’t experience this kind of human connection in aviation, not unless you survive a plane crash on a deserted island.
Building and operating passenger railroads is an expensive endeavor. It requires long-term thinking and strategic long-term investment. In our day and time, business cycles are quarterly and political intervals not sufficiently long to see major infrastructure projects through to completion. After too much short-term thinking, our society must re-learn that taxes are not some sort of punishment. Taxes are a representation of what we set out to accomplish collectively as humans. We pay taxes because we want schools to teach our children. We build bridges and invest in ferries so we can travel across rivers and lakes and visit each other and send goods from where they are made to where they are used. We build hospitals and universities and monuments for the betterment of all of us. We don’t individually use every hospital and every school and see every monument. But a society is built on the existence of common goods. Large infrastructure is seldom built by private corporations. It generally does not produce enough financial turnaround. But corporations happily piggyback on existing infrastructure for their own profit – like CN does with the existing rail network. Only they don’t make it any better or any bigger for us as a society. They only make it better when it makes more money for them.
Money before people.
Why should we prioritize passenger train travel in Canada? Because it gives us a human experience. A way to travel beyond the boredom of sitting in the same cramped seat of a pickup truck for days. A trip without the stress of pre-flight check-ins and overhead luggage bins and the hatred and anonymity of a middle seat. Rail travel takes time and compromise. But then again: Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. Put your Tik-Tok down and look out the window. Talk to a stranger. Do nothing for a while. Your life will be infinitely richer than all the money you could have earned in the meantime.
We live in a society of “money before people”. Taylor Bachrach’s bill proposes to put people before money again. It’s about time.
Tim Haus, Dunster BC