On Board an Empty Train

The first thing I can say about the train is that it is pretty empty. I mean, I’ve taken this train before and I’d never say that I’d seen it busy, but seriously, this is ridiculous. The staff tell me it’s just because early december is a slow time. But I think the sheer cost of a regular fare ticket is the real culprit – express deals prices (about 75% off) were available for this train at some times, but they disappeared from the website weeks before the trip date. 


The bartender told me that this train actually breaks even, or sometimes makes money in the summertime because of the huge influx of tourists, whereas in the Winter the train is used primarily by Canadians. I think this is telling – tourists are willing to pay the full ticket prices because it’s a once in a lifetime experience. But Canadians can’t afford a once in a lifetime experience every time they need to get around, so the train remains because of pricing mostly a tourist destination, and less a serious form of transportation. 


Moving forward I’d like to see rail travel become a serious alternative to flying – as people begin to realize how unsustainable commercial air travel is, and perhaps how unsustainable also are their high paced lifestyles which require dashing across thousands of kilometres in hours rather than days. I don’t mean to say that today the train is a particularly green option – it runs on diesel, and from what I’ve been told it uses quite a bit of diesel to pull a relatively small number of people across the country. But, unlike planes, buses and automobiles, it is a live option that the train could be electrified and run on renewable, carbon neutral sources of energy. 

8 thoughts on “On Board an Empty Train

  1. I wonder why they don’t post more on the viarail deals website, as the dates of travel get closer, not less. Do they only have so many seats they are willing to let go at a discount like on airplanes. Maybe they prefer to show it running empty on their books, to show reason to cut back the services?

  2. If we rank greenhouse gas pollution reduction options from least to most expensive – in terms of cost per tonne of pollution prevented – I would guess that electrifying rail would be far along in the list.

    In the near term, we would probably be much better off spending the same sum on insulating buildings.

    That said, it is good to think about the long-term and identify areas where carbon neutrality is a logical possibility. Biofuels are another route through which trains, cars, buses, and airplanes could all potentially be made to operate in a carbon neutral way.

  3. Goods transport by rail is much more significant than passenger transport by rail, but both would be electrified simultaneously. Unless we are going to live in an economy where goods are not shipped around continents, we are going to need railways – and unlike long distance trucking, railways can be electrified.

    1. Trucking can also theoretically be made carbon neutral.

      The nice thing about carbon pricing policies is they free us from the burden of picking technology winners, or at least they reduce the degree to which we must.

  4. The idea that “we” are spending the money is spurious, the money is spent by corporations. If “we” were in a position to spend money according to the very rational ranking system you propose, we would have a command economy.

    1. It is perfectly meaningful to say that a category of spending is more wasteful than another category, regardless of the specifics of who is paying.

      We should seek to deal with climate change at the lowest possible cost. Also, our odds of avoiding the worst outcomes improve when we take the cheapest steps first.

  5. But “we” aren’t acting. When you say “we” you suppose an agency which could chose between various options – this agency simply fails to exist. The reality is much more complicated.

  6. Also, why should “we” seek to deal with climate change in the “least expensive” way? Why should “we” all agree on this? Some of us would prefer deal with it in the most just, not the cheapest way. Why is cheapness better than justice – and why can you convince everyone such that everyone is included in your “we”?

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