Railways are transforming North America's energy sector and are, coincidentally, helping to save Canada's bacon. But the train business has been allowed to remain a 19th-century technology run with 19th-century mentality by workers without credentials. Aviation, by contrast, is heavily supervised and operated by licensed personnel with professional expertise and constant surveillance. For the moment, the critically important oil industry has been saved, but if governments aren't as tough as nails in their demands and dealings with the railways, then all bets are off.
Debating the best way to do something we shouldn't be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. The recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn't provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method
The Lac Megantic rail disaster is a terrible tragedy for the many who suffered loss. It is also an object lesson in why industries dominated by large corporations cannot be trusted to regulate themselves -- not even when there is nominal oversight by government. Corporations, when they grow large, go public, and take on professional management teams, devolve from being human institutions governed at least in part by genuine ethical constraints, into machine-like entities that are devoid of moral sensibility.
As governments here in Canada wrestle with the challenge of providing high-quality transportation infrastructure, they should increasingly consider public-private partnerships, or P3s. The record shows P3s are more likely to be built on time and on budget, and they offer greater value for money than conventional infrastructure projects.
At first glance, the Canadian Pacific Railway contract fiasco of the early 1870s is the granddaddy of all Canadian scandals. But only the tip of the iceberg has been recounted ad nauseam by historians. The real story is far more gripping, and is actually one of the more fascinating events in Canadian business and political history.