Back when we used to dream…

1. From the early 1970s, I present to you Trudeau-era futurist/modernist thinking at its finest. To harness the technological and creative power of the Space Age and to apply it to high-speed inter-city rail travel. The Turbo Train was an early achievement for Canadian high-speed rail.

A joint venture between Canadian National Railways and United Aircraft Corporation, the Turbo Train could transport 300 passengers between Montreal and Toronto typically in just over four hours, at the time about an hour faster than previous high-speed service. That being said it was never given an isolated track nor allowed to operate anywhere close to its actual top speed, which may have been able to bring the trip down to under three hours. Consider that in the late 1960s and early 1970s there were few aircraft models capable of transporting that many people and all would have been brand new and exceptionally expensive (aircraft such as the Airbus A300, Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed TriStar were designed for long-range, high-capacity travel by major international airlines). Moreover, given the nature of inter-city travel in Canada along the Windsor-Québec City Corridor, using such aircraft would be impractical. The Turbo Train represented an efficient and balanced solution to the needs of Canadian inter-city travellers, offering an inexpensive, relaxed though relatively fast high-capacity transit system between Toronto and Montréal, backed up by an even less expensive ‘milk-run’ service at non-peak times.

What I find astounding about these three videos is that they are almost a how-to guide for the project, specifically highlighting key development concepts and marketing points. I mean, you could probably sell this idea to a lot of people simply by showing this old video, campy and dated as it is.

In any event; the project was folded in 1982 by Via in favour of the slower Bombardier LRC design back in an era in which rail travel was increasingly unpopular in North America – the train-sets were all still fully operational. I don’t know to what degree the federal government was actually involved in the project, but I can imagine significant direct and indirect investment, not to mention the fact that back then CN was still a Crown Corporation. Just goes to show, socialism was once seen as a key avenue for future progress.

2. An excellent film – Impressions of Expo. A must-see for anyone looking to get back some of that late-1960s Canadian progressive spirit. Expo was and still is the most highly-attended universal exposition off all time. We brought 50 million people from all over the globe to Montreal over six months. At that time our national population was only around 20 million. Best of all, not only did it put us on the map so to speak, but it it also generated incredible profits and long-term economic gain, for Montreal, Québec and Canada.

3. Possibly my favourite tribute to my home-town, Luc Bourdon’s the Memories of Angels. An absolute delight to see Montreal’s amazing transformation from the 40s through to the 60s. And yet, despite the age of these vignettes, we discover something so timelessly Montréalais. Enjoy.4. The Champions – a three part documentary on the complex and intertwined relationships and legacies of René Lévesque and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. A must-see NFB/CBC joint feature and an excellent tool for understanding a major contributing element of Canadian Progressive thought. I count these two men as personal heroes, and champions of causes far greater than themselves. If only our politicians today had their strength of character, vision and tested leadership qualities.

Part 1 is attached here, rest can be viewed in window.

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