Turbotrain, Zerotrain, Ecotrain: The Ecological Political Economies of High-Speed Rail in Canada

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Katz-Rosene, Ryan Maurice




Since the late 1980s Canadian proponents of high-speed rail (HSR) have increasingly appealed to the technology’s sustainability potential to sell the idea to decision-makers. This thesis employs an ecological political economy (EPE) approach to examine this phenomenon. It considers when, how, and why high-speed rail became an ‘ecological fix’ – a neoliberal tactic, employed by states and capitalists in search of profit, wherein innovations are proposed as a means of externalizing and internalizing socio-environmental conditions. It demonstrates how this development in Canada’s HSR story was
shaped by the underlying transformation of ‘neoliberalization’, a process which in Canada was largely uneven, often contradictory, and featured various national idiosyncrasies. Three distinct ecological political economic narratives for HSR development are identified – ‘Turbotrain’, ‘Zerotrain’ and ‘Ecotrain’ – and these narratives are shown to have competed with one another for legitimacy since the 1960s, during periods of HSR ‘emergence’, ‘impasse’ and ‘unanswered resurgence’. It is argued that HSR became an ecological fix after proponents repeatedly failed to convince decision-makers to
invest in the transport infrastructure, a phenomenon that was backgrounded by ‘roll-out’ forms of neoliberalism and the attendant popularization of eco-modernist beliefs. However, considering Canada’s two proposed HSR projects (in the Quebec City-Windsor and Calgary-Edmonton corridors) from an EPE perspective raises doubts about some of the grand claims and motivations underlying this ecological fix, and identifies a number of unintended impacts which could result from the introduction of HSR as a new mode within Canada’s busiest transport corridors.


High Speed Trains
Political Ecology




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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