David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas is a reporter who has covered government and society since graduating from Ottawa’s Carleton University with degrees in political science and journalism. He has written for National Geographic, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, The Gazette, and The Canadian Press news agency from postings in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and London, England. “Railroading has been a personal fascination since a childhood timed fortunately enough to witness the golden years of steam on the late-to-dieselize Canadian National and Canadian Pacific,” he says.

Tuesday, 05 September 2017 12:43

VIA High Frequency Rail: Details emerge

VIA Rail is coyly dripping details of its desired route for dedicated “High Frequency Rail” (HFR) service linking Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto as it seeks to build political support for the C$6 billion scheme that requires approval of its single shareholder, the government of Canada.

Prospects for VIA Rail’s dedicated central Canada corridor appear to be on the move as the publicly owned passenger train operator submits its business case, and an accomplished rail executive is named to prepare the government’s promised infrastructure bank.

One of Keith Creel’s first acts upon becoming Canadian Pacific CEO in February was a call to his counterpart at the union representing the railway’s train and engine (T&E) crews. It was time, CP’s top brass hat told the Teamsters senior rail boss, to restore respect and fairness to the railroad’s treatment of its engineers and conductors.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 13:46

Canada coal phase-out a ho-hum for CN, CP

The phase-out of coal for electricity generation announced by Canada’s greenish Liberal government Nov. 21 will have no impact on the country’s Class I railways. That’s because nearly all of CN and Canadian Pacific steam coal haulage originates and terminates within the U.S.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 12:38

Three years ago today...

Three years ago today, the people of Lac-Mégantic could never have imagined this.

Three years ago, in the early hours of July 13, a runaway oil train exploded in the then-idyllic lakeside town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Canada’s chief financial watchdog praised VIA Rail’s internal management April 3 but slammed successive national governments for failing to support the state-owned passenger railway with strategic planning and capital investment.

Wednesday, 04 May 2016 14:28

National Dream redux

From the April 2016 issue of Railway Age: From the era of fur-trading voyageurs, the St. Lawrence River Valley between the Great Lakes and Montreal has been Canada’s economic aorta. Solitary canoes gave way to steamships, railways, airplanes and freeways, and the vital artery is now clogged within a smear of yellow smog, often thick enough to taste.

In a curious role reversal, Canada’s former Minister of Transport, now opposition politician Lisa Raitt, has revealed that the Canadian government quietly paid C$75 million toward compensation for victims of the 2013 oil trains disaster that killed 47 in the Quebec resort town of Lac-Mégantic.

A string of still-shiny, graffiti-free tank cars rests incongruously amid white apple blossoms with Oregon’s glaciered volcano shimmering in the distance.

Proposing a radical new business model, Quebec’s huge public pension fund announced April 22, 2016 that it will directly undertake construction and continuing operation of a 67-km (41.5-mile), double-tracked, electrified and fully automated rapid rail network, the Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM), which will transform commuting in Montreal and its immediate hinterland.

Thursday, 17 December 2015 15:11

Canada's Trudeau has final say on CP-NS merger

Rail industry cogitation focuses so far on Canadian Pacific's (CP) prospects for securing Surface Transportation Board (STB) approval for its—at first friendly and now increasingly hostile—attempt to take over Norfolk Southern (NS). Unremarked has been the even-less predictable, but equally essential, attitude of Canada's transportation and business regulators to a deal that would see one of the country's two Class I’s disappear into the alphabet soup of American megamergers.

Reaffirmation by the U.S. rail and hazardous materials regulators of new rules for the movement of flammable liquids means operational migraines for railroaders, without actually addressing the underlying cause of crude oil exploding in transit.

Canada's freshly elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, reached heavenward Nov. 4, 2015 in selecting the country's new Transport Minister, former NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Marc Garneau. The 66-year-old Garneau was Canada’s first man in space, logging 677 hours during three flights between 1984 and 2000.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 10:49

High times ahead for Canadian rails

Canada’s three major railways should benefit from the Oct. 19, 2015 sea-to-sea election sweep by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada. Trudeau’s party even managed to get four members of parliament elected in Alberta's two metropolises, Calgary and Edmonton—the ideological and financial anchors of the defeated Stephen Harper’s pro-pipeline and anti-rail Conservative government.

Friday, 05 June 2015 10:02

DOT-117 defined

The wait for a new tank car specification is over. Now comes the “fun” part: Retrofits to older cars, and potentially onerous operating rules.

Prospects for the contentious Keystone XL pipeline proposed to connect Alberta’s northern tar sands with U.S. Gulf Coast refiners has endured another brutal body check, this time from the home team. The province’s brand-new, left-leaning government elected May 5 says it will cease its predecessor’s long campaign of supplicating and bullying President Barack Obama for the pipeline’s approval.

The final spec for the now-official DOT-117 (TC-117 in Canada) non-pressurized tank car adopts the most demanding of the technical requirements first offered for comment in the notice of rulemaking: jacketed and thermally insulated shells of 9/16-inch steel, full-height half-inch-thick head shields, sturdier, re-closeable pressure relief valves and rollover protection for top fittings.

How crude oil sloshing inside moving tank cars affects train stability was under close scrutiny by the Federal Railroad Administration, the regulator’s Acting Administrator told reporters back on March 13. That was after a string of mid-winter oil train disasters exposed the prevailing focus on tank car thickness to be essentially pointless in the quest to prevent oil train derailments and explosions.

Somewhere near the photo-worn steel trestle at Miniota, Manitoba, Via Rail’s eastbound and westbound Canadians will meet Sunday, April 12, 2015 for the first time since a pair of mid-winter oil train explosions closed CN’s transcontinental main line through northern Ontario.
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