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Opinion: Is a high-speed train a leap into the greenwash?

It was a great night attending the Leap Manifesto in High Park, Toronto — I was impressed to see all levels of Government present: Arif Virani, Cheri DiNovo, and Gord Perks. A collection of speakers took the 500 plus folks through the vision and simplicity of the Leap Manifesto. The lead speaker, Avi Lewis, had an open and fresh format for the evening — the Leap Manifesto is the product of a team of thinkers. When Avi asked the audience if they had signed the Leap Manifesto, a flourish of hands rose — I didn't raise my hand, I wanted to, but I am still unclear on some of the Leap Manifesto goals, others are no-brainers.

As a whole, the concept of the Leap Manifesto is a well thought out and meaningful blueprint — I especially like the harmonized approach between Nations and the local flavour of leveraging enhanced public assets to deliver smarter services to communities. As we see the PPP models burning through tax dollars, the privatization model in Canada hasn't delivered on its promises, nor can it, our markets are not all "profitable territories". When areas aren't serviced equally, the PPP model fails to deliver — some are left out. We need a system that enables all to flourish.

The community vibe was sparking through the presentation. People were excited to see a group starting to openly discuss and address the issues that never seem to make the "MSM radar". Many leaders spoke, shared, and expanded the discussion. Using the Leap Manifesto, any group can apply its vision and wisdom. I thought it was comical when Avi discussed the backlash and trash talk from "the 1%" regarding Leap. Empowering local seems like a smart plan. Enhancing services to compete in a free market, at competitive advantage benefits all of us, not a single hedge fund group, in some other country. Ownership matters, smart ownership wins.

The multicultural vibe of the Leap Manifesto is refreshing. I love my multicultural community and it's time to recognize, celebrate, and respect diversity in our communities. On the surface, the Leap Manifesto is a promise to community and planet. The evening started by paying respects to First Nations, then quickly spoke about Toronto's Black Lives Matter advocates and how both are supporting each other — we need respectful and peaceful community. 

The topic that wasn't discussed in any detail, and perhaps there is a more detailed and published case study, was the Leap Manifesto goal to have renewable energy power a high-speed rail system across Canada. For now, It seems I support 85% of the Leap Manifesto so my hand isn't fully in the air yet.

Having experience with a few designers that have worked on such rail systems and electrified trains, I begin to understand the complexity, and costs, of such infrastructure products. Secret: I have always loved the concept of Trans-Canada high-speed rail — it made sense, but was it 1867 style thinking? I'll boldly say I'm not sold on high-speed train infrastructure as a smart landing spot for the Leap Manifesto. Seems there are better options available.

When we look at a high-speed system, powered by renewable energy, we also need to consider the other projects that we are not investing in. Will a high-speed train "go further" than an alternate infrastructure investment? Is safe high-speed train transport likely in Canada? Longer-distance projects elsewhere have been challenged by delays, cost over-runs, and security issues. Is a high-speed train possible? Of course. Is a high-speed train optimal? I don't think so. What smarter investments are there?

I do support an innovation in rail transport, but the reality is that high-speed rail is about 300% faster than current rates. What would benefit from a 300% increase in transport? Certainly those located close to the track, but what are the benefits to northern communities?

It seems like the Leap Manifesto needs to refocus some attention on this detail. Is there a superior infrastructure investment to be made? Can a high-speed train compete with driverless transportation? Is going fast smart? What happened to slow food? If management incorporates processes that use less energy, will business be buying high-speed train services? 

As far as travel and personal transportation, a high-speed train certainly seems a greener solution than flying by air, but, with potential hydrogen powered jet engines, planes of tomorrow will possibly run on renewable sources.

After considering all the accommodations to support a safe and reliable high-speed train, that won't hit a deer at 300-500 km/hr, once we do the math over the long-term, I am not sure this is the smartest vision to advise for the Leap Manifesto. I will be looking deeper into this as this train gains steam, but I'm confident that a bigger leap is possible if we slow things down to match the demands and natural balances of the local groups it serves — is servicing emergent need, organically, more efficient than buying unused high-performance capacity?