Where is Canada’s Road to Riches? The Rails, My Friend, the Rails.

As SI posted three months ago, The Road to Riches [is] The Rails, My Friend, The Rails. Not only is rail transport more fuel efficient and predictable than road transport, but it’s increasing adoption in the east has shown just how beneficial it can be.

The reality is that It’s Time for California to Update It’s Passenger Rail Solution and it’s time for Canada to update its passenger rail solution. Not only are parts of the country utterly without passenger rail service (as the only Via Rail stops in NS are in Amherst, Halifax, and Springhill Junction, for example), but the parts of the country that desperately need high-speed rail the most, like the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) are totally bereft.

As per this very well written article over on The Huffington Post, Canada’s Tech Future May Ride on the Rails. For example, right now it takes almost an hour to get from Pearson Airpot to Union Station downtown, a problem that is expected to be completed in 2015 with the Union-Pearson Express rail-link that will cut the travel time down to 25 minutes.

But this is not the biggest problem. Right now, one of Canada’s biggest tech-hubs is Kitchener-Waterloo, home of RIM, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, and a slew of technology companies, including many start-ups prime for US VC investment. Investment that is likely to flow only if it’s easy for VCs (who will fly out the afternoon before) to get there, meet with prospects, and get on the flight back home the day of the meeting (on the last flight out of Toronto between 6 and 7 pm, depending on their airline of choice). But with their only option being either the train, which only leaves Kitchener at 5:49 am (arriving at Union at 7:53 am) or 7:07 pm (arriving at Union at 9:08 pm), or the 401, which is typically a two to a two and a half hour drive at standard congestion levels, getting in and out of KW in one day is impossible (even though the straight line distance is under 100 km) if you also want to conduct business in Toronto during your trip.

As a result, as the article points out, a number of valley VCs make less trips than they might otherwise and don’t stop by to visit potential opportunities that haven’t commandeered their full attention (which, due to circumstances, typically requires multiple expensive trips to the valley). Opportunities, that, with funding, could bring more investment north of the border. Opportunities that could be used to fill the five million square feet of building space that could be built on all of the vacant land within a five minute walk of the multi-modal station in downtown Kitchener if there was demand.

If Kitchener-Waterloo achieved its technology potential, and another five million square feet of building space were filled with technology companies, according to Rod Regier, the executive director of economic development for the City of Kitchener, you would have another 15,000 technology workers in the area. At 2011 figures, these workers would generate 1.1 Billion in personal income and generate almost 400 million in income tax.

And guess how much a high-speed train with regular all day service between Union Station and downtown Kitchener would cost? An estimate in 2009 pegged the cost at 400 Million. It would be more expensive now, but probably not more than 20% more expensive. At this cost, the project would very quickly pay for itself since more tech companies would move in and once the region reached its potential, it would be generating tax revenues every 15 to 18 months that equaled the initial project cost. But for now, this logical project, just like high-speed rail along the North East Corridor of the US (and high-speed rail across Northern and Southern California in our lifetime) remains a pipe-dream. Too bad. It seems that the rails really do bring riches to those who choose to ride them.