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Functioning with Freight Rail

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Straight lines = good. Curve lines = bad.

If high-speed rail could be summed up into one line, it would be this.

The biggest challenge when building high-speed rail is finding suitably flat and straight corridors. If we look at a map, we can see Eastern Canada is blessed with many freight rail corridors and these present both an opportunity and a challenge for building high-speed rail.

The advantage of using existing freight corridors is that you are using a corridor that is known to already work for rail. Most of the embankments and cuts needed have already been built and you know that with freight railways the grades are gentler than what is required for high-speed rail.

However, the presence of existing freight traffic along a freight corridor brings with it unique design questions and challenges. This situation is somewhat unique for Canada as in most parts of the world either passenger or freight rail dominate; seldom do they both travel in parallel at a large scale.

How high-speed rail should be built along a freight rail corridor depends on the corridor’s level of freight traffic. Following the principle of “Software before Hardware”, separation should be attempted temporally before physically. Where freight traffic is low (1-2 trains per day), freight trains should travel at night when high-speed trains are no longer operating. Freight trains would use the same tracks except for curved sections designed specifically for high-speed trains. Since freight trains would damage these curved sections with a higher cant, they would use a parallel track along these sections specifically built for their use.

Using existing freight corridors will be essential in making high-speed rail in Eastern Canada cost-effective. There are ways that high-speed and freight trains can operate on the same corridor safely without sharing the same tracks or compromising either’s operations.

If you want to learn more about how high-speed rail can become a reality in Canada, please check out Build It Right - A Study on High-Frequency Rail/High-Speed Rail in Canada.

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