Canada’s rugged coastlines, lofty mountains, sweeping plains, and tundra make up the second largest country (by total area) in the world. If you visit, you’ll see a lot of wide open space unless you’re just north of the Great Lakes. This is where you’ll find 1 out of every 4 Canadians, living in the metropolitan areas of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. This string of cities is at the heart of the so-called Windsor-Quebec Corridor and makes up the fourth most populous area in North America. The natural beauty of this corridor is being marred by a similar blight faced by many urban cities--crowded highways and traffic.
Traveling between Montreal and Toronto takes upwards of five grueling hours by car and there is no dedicated passenger rail line. The highway connections between the cities (Highway 417 and Highway 401) are the busiest in Canada. The annual average daily traffic on Highway 401 alone exceeds 450,000 vehicles within the City of Toronto and it never drops below 20,000 between urban centers along the route. Drivers in Montreal have the worst commute in the country, spending 52 hours in congestion annually. And things are getting worse: congestion between cities is set to grow by more than 6% by 2020.
A team in Canada led by transport leader AECOM Canada has its sights set on using a Hyperloop system to address this congestion and the lack of high-speed transport in the corridor. As one of the 35 semi-finalists in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, the team outlined a future vision for a united and efficiently mobile Canadian mega-region.
“No mode of transportation has existing or planned capacity to accommodate the growth in traffic along this corridor,” according to AECOM Canada’s proposal. “By moving higher volumes of people in less time, Hyperloop could generate greater returns socially and provide much-needed capacity to accommodate the forecasted growth in demand for travel in the corridor.”
With Hyperloop, a trip between Toronto and Ottawa could be reduced to 27 minutes, Montreal to Ottawa in 12 minutes, and Toronto to Montreal in 39 minutes. Unlike air transport or even high-speed rail, Hyperloop makes the journey from city-center to city-center and enables direct, on-demand connections between the cities. This would position the region to rival major North American metropolitan areas to attract workers, visitors, businesses, investment, and ultimately increase competitive advantage in the global economy.
For example, the Québec-Ontario Life Sciences Corridor is already one of the largest bio-clusters in the world, with more than 1,100+ companies, 66,000 qualified workers, 490 undergraduate and graduate programs in biological and bio-medicine sciences and annual public and private medical research investments exceeding $1 billion. With tighter transport links, this corridor could become even more of a global industry magnet, similar to the Automation Valley in Germany or Silicon Valley in the United States.
Proposed Hyperloop route would connect Toronto to Montreal via Ottawa
The team also suggests that Hyperloop could help Canada meet its goals for reducing its carbon footprint. Transportation accounted for 24% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, second only to the oil and gas sector.
Canada has a strong commitment to reducing emissions and investing in new green transport modes is a high priority. Some 70% of the Quebec and Ontario energy today is produced by renewable energy, mostly hydro power. As an energy-agnostic transportation system, Hyperloop can be powered by hydro or other renewables and would be 100% emissions-free, a strong draw for transportation and urban planners.
Improved Trade Within Canada & United States
After connecting Canada’s three major Eastern cities, the next logical step for a Hyperloop network would be to extend into the U.S., west to Detroit from Windsor, Ontario, and east from Quebec to Niagara Falls/Buffalo and on toward Chicago, New York, and Boston.
This extended network could open up dramatic opportunities to move freight and improve trade throughout the region. The Port of Montreal is the closest international container port to North America’s industrial heartland. The port serves more than 140 countries and handles more than 12.5 million tons of containerized commodities annually, 60% of which moves inland by truck or rail according to the group’s proposal.
Connecting the port to an extended network could enable long-haul deliveries to customers within hours instead of days throughout the extended network, dramatically overhauling current freight transport practices. It would also reduce existing freight infrastructure congestion.
Hyper-Fast Connections = Growing Canadian Economy
The Trudeau administration has demonstrated a strong commitment to investing in infrastructure with the aim of boosting Canada’s economy. The administration has created an infrastructure bank and pledged $81.2 billion CAD ($60.8 billion USD) in spending over the coming 12 years. These funds have been earmarked for public transit, trade and transportation corridors, and green infrastructure improvements.
A multi-billion dollar project to add dedicated rail lines and electrify commuter rail in the Toronto-Montreal corridor is receiving serious consideration but is currently facing challenges in acquiring land rights through a highly urbanized area. A Hyperloop system elevated on columns would require a much narrower footprint and, with speeds two to three times faster than high-speed rail and five to ten times faster than conventional rail, would offer a cheaper, faster, greener alternative to high-speed rail. Additionally, Hyperloop systems can create jobs and open up new economic opportunities within Canada in manufacturing, construction, and services sectors.
In concluding their pitch, the AECOM Canada team noted that the corridor has a highly educated and diverse workforce and a critical mass of service and manufacturing industry clusters. In their view, Hyperloop could “allow the three metro areas to draw from each other’s pools of talent, productive capability, innovation, and markets to increase the corridor’s competitive advantage in the world’s economy.” Daily commutes of one-tenth the time between these far-flung cities can ultimately help the region realize the potential of becoming a competitive mega-region.