President, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference - Maintenance of Way Employees Division, Teamsters Canada
Honoured members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, my name is William Brehl. I'm the president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference maintenance of way employees division. Our division represents all of the men and women who build, inspect, and maintain the track, bridges, and structures at CP Rail and over two dozen short lines. No one knows building rail and keeping it safe better than our people. We're the people Pierre Berton wrote about and Gordon Lightfoot sang about.
I want to thank you for allowing me a few minutes to speak to you concerning Teamsters Canada's position on high-speed rail. We believe in both the idea and the reality of high-speed rail. We can't help but see this as an excellent direction for transportation in Canada, coming at an opportune time. This will benefit Canadians for generations to come, not only with the employment that is tied to the construction and maintenance, but also with the infrastructure change itself.
The initial effect of high-speed rail will be the creation of thousands of new jobs needed to construct the system. In the 1991 Ontario/Quebec Rapid Train Task Force final report, it's estimated that, and I quote: “The construction phase of the HSR project will generate an estimated 45,000 person years for the 200 KPH option and 127,000 person years for the 300 kilometre per hour option.”
As you're all aware, the unemployment rate in this country is at 8%. CP Rail alone has seen over 2,500 unionized railway employees laid off since last December. Since we are in the midst of a recession, now is the time to invest in the country's future, creating jobs and establishing a lasting and fully functional legacy.
Teamsters Canada represents well over half of all unionized railway employees in this country. As an organization that represents the interests of thousands of highly skilled railway workers, we naturally welcome any opportunity to increase and broaden Canada's commitment to rail transportation in a safe and productive manner. High-speed rail, if handled properly, could very well be one such opportunity, and consequently we would support it. We not only view HSR as a project that could be good for our membership, but we also view it in its broader context as an infrastructure development project that would be deeply beneficial to all Canadians for many generations to come.
Transportation is the backbone of our economy, and the existence of an HSR line that, in effect, brings Canada's largest population centres closer together can only help to ensure that Canadian prosperity continues to grow. In the short term, a project the size of HSR will provide a much-needed boost to our current slacking economy. It will have an extremely healthy effect on the lives of all working men and women. In the longer term, as the 21st century unfolds, Canada will follow the lead of and experience the same kinds of positive results as many other countries that have implemented HSR systems. Our dependence on oil is not only creating a stranglehold on our economy, but the use of fossil fuels as a transportation energy source could very well be destroying our planet. According to the Earth Policy Institute, three-quarters of the carbon emissions from human activities are due to the combustion of fossil fuels, due in large part to the millions of automobiles packed on our highway.
Environmentally, rail is the friendliest means of land mass transport that there is. Not only will an HSR system greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels as a transportation energy source, it will also, as stated in the Martin Prosperity Institute February 2009 paper on infrastructure, go a long way to help meeting our short-term greenhouse gas emission targets, possibly in the area of 40% of Ontario's greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020. Linking our urban regions with a high-speed rail network will contribute to providing relief from the major congestion of our roads and thoroughfares, allowing for expanded residential advantages and enhancing our quality of life.
In closing, let me say again that as the nation's premier transportation union, Teamsters Canada is better placed than almost any other stakeholder to contribute in a deep and meaningful way to the success of the high-speed rail project. No one knows track and rail infrastructure better than we do. We alone have had the honour and the responsibility of renewing and maintaining CP Rail's tracks and bridges ever since the last spike was driven in Craigellachie, B.C., in 1885. We view the HSR initiative as a continuation of that great tradition, and we are therefore committed to working with all of our partners in the rail industry, whether labour, company, or government, to ensure that the initiative is handled properly, receives approval, and moves forward.