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CPR’s Ritchie says Canada has transportation infrastructure deficit

Canada has built up a transportation infrastructure deficit that is starting to hold back the country's economic ex...

Canada has built up a transportation infrastructure deficit that is starting to hold back the country’s economic expansion, said Rob Ritchie, President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Pacific Railway.

“Truckers have to cope with increasing congestion and bottlenecks at border crossings. Bulk shippers want to move more product than our rail networks can handle. West Coast ports struggle to manage a huge influx of container traffic. Commuters travel to work on clogged highways and city streets.

“It’s time for transportation to move to the top of Canada’s agenda,” he said.

He made the comments after receiving National Transportation Week’s Person-of-the-Year award for 2004.

“Because of constraints placed upon them by outdated public policy, the railways are not able to invest enough to fulfil the demands that society and industry are starting to place on us now. While the railways are grappling with their burning need to invest, our
highway network is also being strained. So here you have the two backbones of the economy – railways and highways – under stress. At the same time, Canadian ports have a government-imposed borrowing cap that prevents them from making required capital investments.”

He warned the emerging capacity problem in the rail industry will become more acute as any talk of regulated running rights, or open access to rail lines, scares away needed investment capital.

“It’s now fashionable for some shippers to sayrailways should be regulated like gas, electric and telecommunications utilities, and that anyone who wants to provide rail service should simply be able to come onto a railway’s lines. This argument may be compelling to some, but it is patently false because it ignores the plain fact that rail freight is not uniform. Open access is scaring away the investment that railways need to fund expansion of their capacity today.”

He said the railway industry urgently needs regulatory and taxation changes that will allow railways to increase their pace of investment in their networks.

Mr. Ritchie called on all the surface transportation modes and the federal and provincial governments to work together. “For instance, rail-based solutions can help trucking companies address their driver shortages and at the same time take capacity pressure off our highways and city streets. Our federal leadership could harmonize the current hodgepodge of provincial trucking rules and discourage the provinces from taking huge, inappropriate bites out of railway investment dollars through property and fuel taxes. Governments can implement ‘user pay’ schemes, which mean those who use public infrastructure pay for it,” he said.

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