US / Canada Rail Infrastructure Luncheon

Yesterday, I attended the US / Canada “Pay the Freight” Rail Infrastructure luncheon presentation, presented jointly by the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Consulate General of Canada and the Union League Club of Chicago, where the luncheon was held.

The Union League is a tremendous venue for events like this – centrally located, spacious facilities and displaying the largest privately held art collection in the country.  Not to mention that its present clubhouse, opened in 1926, was the product of Chicago’s most prolific Canadian architect, William Bryce Mundie.  Mundie – born, schooled and articled in Hamilton, Ontario – was the successor to the “Father of the Skyscraper”, William LeBaron Jenney in his practice.  Mundie was also a well known member of the Union League; a bit confusing, since the Union League is a patriotic American organization tracing its roots back to the Union vs. Confederacy.  To this day, one needs to be American to join.  My account of how Mundie trained a young architect coming through the Jenney and Mundie office by the name of John Atchison, and how Atchison ended up in Winnipeg as the only local architect with the wherewithal to do “skyscraper” buildings during its pre First World War building boom caught the interest of the Assistant Deputy Minister of Transport Canada.

While transportation and rail networks in North America have traditionally been oriented east to west, economic realities see more north to south linkages and railway networks are being reoriented to reflect this reality.

The accounts of Canada’s Pacific, Central and Atlantic Gateways – all of which involve Chicago – are all very industrious.  I mentioned to a consular friend about my family’s Canadian Pacific Railway background, the response being that at one time, some 40% of Canadians worked for a railway.  That much of Canada’s economy depended on transportation. The gateway projects reflect this importance.

A further presentation compared the amount of the US Gross Domestic Product spent on transportation now, and in 1979.  That amount has been cut in half over this period of time; directly attributable to more and more products being shipped by railroads rather than by trucks.  If just 10% of what currently is shipped by trucks were to be put on a train, the amount of greenhouse gas and energy reductions achieved would be quite astounding.  This reduced amounts of required transportation costs reflected by railway efficiencies become free to be channeled elsewhere in the economy.

Not a bad deal…

Otherwise, the luncheon was a great occasion to catch up on old acquaintances and create new ones.