Commuter rail vs. fast ferry

In late 2000, I was asked by Mayor Peter Kelly to enter into discussions with CN with a view to the possibility of developing a commuter rail service between Sackville and Halifax. Over the next 18 months, positive and amicable meetings were held with CN; however, by mid-2002 it was clear HRM had little interest in commuter rail, so the discussions ended.

During these 18 months, I heard many arguments both for and against commuter rail. In light of the recent push for a fast ferry service from Bedford to Halifax, it is worth reexamining the arguments against commuter rail:

Over the past month or so, there has been a renewed interest in commuter rail by citizens of HRM and members of HRM council. This has resulted in the proponents of the fast ferry to remind everyone of the arguments against commuter rail, such as those listed above.

Funnily enough, those very same arguments can be used against the fast ferry:

This should not be taken to mean that there is a dead-heat between commuter rail and the fast ferry—commuter rail has at least two advantages over the fast ferry, both of which relate to the rising cost of oil.

First, commuter rail can reach areas of the province that are inaccessible to any ferry. The few remaining rail lines in the province pass through communities, some well outside the limits of HRM, on the South Shore, the Valley, and towards Truro. If the province were to show leadership and recognize that the cost of oil will continue to increase, HRM could partner with the province and develop commuter rail services to these locations.

Second, commuter rail, unlike the fast ferry, can be powered by electricity, meaning that commuter rail passengers need not be held hostage to rising oil prices or shortages in supply.

Published—Daily News 29 June 2007