labradore

"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I*eland

Two items from VOCM of note this evening, both centering around The False Comparisons That Will Not Die.

That is, the ever-so popular Newfoundland ≈ Ireland comparison, and its up-and-coming cousin, Newfoundland ≈ Iceland.

First we are off to the Emerald Isle:
Railway Should Have Been Retained: Scholar
August 31, 2006

The Chairman of the Centre for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland believes the Newfoundland Railway should have been retained. A new book launched at the Railway Coastal Museum features poems by Dr. John Ennis. One of the works tells the story of the struggle and hardship of building the Newfoundland Railway. Dr. Ennis says rail development is booming in Ireland.
Ah yes. Train nostalgia. There's probably a multi-syllabic German word for it somewhere.

Newfoundland. Island. Ireland. Island. Tempting comparison. Newfoundland. Used to have a railway. Ireland. Still does. Convenient similarities. No one bothers to look at the differences, though.

Ireland has a relatively continuous ecumene of agricultural and generally settled lands. Newfoundland has strings of small settlements, concentrated along the coast, and separated (other than in the comparatively rare cases where the settlements run into one another) by wilderness.

Ireland has a much larger population (over 6.2-million for the Republic and Ulster together) than Newfoundland, and in a smaller area, that's a higher population density. Much higher: 76.3/km2, vs. 4.5/km2 in Newfoundland, and that's including non-"mainland" Newfoundland populations like Fogo and Change Islands (but not Labrador). Comparing rail network to population, today's Newfoundland population would have given about 350 people for every route-kilometre of the Newfoundland rail network at its zenith. Ireland has over 2300 people per route-kilometre. Passenger rail demands high population densities or, in their absence, no other option for getting around, or massive subsidies.

Or a combination thereof.

Ireland also has several cities comparable in size, metro-to-metro, to Newfoundland's only largish city, St. John's: Limerick, Galway, Cork, and Derry, plus others that are Corner Brook sized and larger. And Ireland also has Belfast, whose metro population is larger than all of Newfoundland combined, and Dublin, which is roughly 10 times the size of St. John's alone. Large cities, and cities in close proximity to one another, favour passenger rail transportation. This is why you will find it in Ireland, in Canada primarily in the Windsor-Quebec corridor, and in the U.S. in the northeast. Conversely, this is why you will not find it in Newfoundland, not since the development of the highway system.

It would be nice if there were still a train in Newfoundland. It would be nicer still if St. John's had been long-sighted enough to keep streetcars instead of buses; it might have helped the post-war city avoid becoming Just Another North American Suburb Of Itself. But the fact is, for all but five fiscal years between 1904 and 1946, the Newfoundland Railway lost money. [Source: Hiller and Harrington, volume II, p. 104 et ff.] Four of those five surplus years were during WWII, and attributable solely to the short-lived wartime boom in traffic.

If you want to fall into the tempting comparison between Ireland and Newfoundland in matters of rail transportation, consider the 20th-century atrophying of rail transport in Ireland. Yes, given Irish demographics, and the geographical factors outlined above, rail will never disappear from Ireland. But just as in Newfoundland, and most everywhere else in the developed world, rail has declined for most of the past 100 years. In Newfoundland, it declined to the point of disappearing; the system was never that large to begin with, so it had less distance to fall to its death. Many branches and services had already been abandoned, after short histories, long before Newfoundland became part of Canada. And the recent renaissance of rail in Ireland has everything to do with geographical and demographic factors that Newfoundland simply does not possess.

Now to hop across the Atlantic to Iceland.
Premier Continues Iceland Trip
August 31, 2006

Premier Danny Williams and Fisheries Minister Tom Rideout are in Iceland this week, studying new energy technologies and how that country restructured its' fishery. Williams dined with Iceland's Prime Minister and met with officials of the local marine institute. Given what he has seen so far, Williams says the possibilities for Newfoundland and Labrador are endless. He says Iceland is an island on the edge of the Arctic Circle and if it can be done there, it certainly can be done in this province. Williams says he'll be taking a close look at Iceland's energy model. Williams and Rideout are also visiting Norway for meetings with government officials and Norsk Hydro.
It's too bad VOCM is paraphrasing here, and not direct-quoting. Yes, Iceland is an island. Very good, Danny.

Newfoundland AND LABRADOR is not.

If the Premier is looking to Iceland as a tempting North Atlantic "island" comparison, he may as well also look to Yukon, the NWT, or Nunavut as tempting northern Canadian ones.

And why not? He wouldn't be the first to make such a comparison, even if, for obvious political and nationalistic ones, he'd likely want to be the last.

Newfoundland ≈ Ireland. Newfoundland ≈ Iceland. Comparisons so tempting, and, for the most part, so very wrong.

5 Comments:

At 1:17 PM, September 01, 2006 , Blogger mt.pearligan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 1:25 PM, September 01, 2006 , Blogger mt.pearligan said...

So what, an IRISHMAN believes Newfoundland would have done better to have retained it's railroad. This isn't another voice of madness crying out from the Newfoundland wilderness. I'm not gonna argue that you're wrong about the wastefulness and futility of maintaining a railway in Newfoundland but you might want to provide a short history of oil prices in the 20th century and the advent of the automobile for the sake of comparison. Even railways in densely populated places such as Europe and the US were shutting down en masse following WWII due to cheap cars, cheap oil and cheap suburban housing. In Montreal, in fact, the rising cost of gasoline and conngestion on roadways has prompted the reconstruction of suburban railways that have been closed for decades due to competition with cars; this is happening in many places. Who knows? There may come a time when we regret tearing up infrastructure as in this case.

 
At 1:49 PM, September 01, 2006 , Blogger WJM said...

This isn't another voice of madness crying out from the Newfoundland wilderness.

No, but it's a voice of Newfoundland nationalist madness echoing off the Emerald Isle.

you might want to provide a short history of oil prices in the 20th century and the advent of the automobile for the sake of comparison. Even railways in densely populated places such as Europe and the US were shutting down en masse following WWII due to cheap cars, cheap oil and cheap suburban housing.

All of which is alluded to or linked to in my post. You may wish to re-read it.

There may come a time when we regret tearing up infrastructure as in this case.

The ROW is still there! That's the key. And if there ever is to be another railway in Newfoundland, a hint for next time: standard guage!

 
At 1:06 PM, September 02, 2006 , Blogger Table Mountains said...

i worked 16 years with the railway on the island. a lot spent in port aux basques at a place called truck to truck. there we took the box cars off standard gauge trucks and put them on narrow gauge ones.(then the load limit had to be smaller) if the decision to use standard gauge was made back in the late 1800's then today we might just have a railway here on the island.

 
At 11:09 PM, September 02, 2006 , Blogger WJM said...

if the decision to use standard gauge was made back in the late 1800's then today we might just have a railway here on the island.

And if it had been standard guage, who knows; one of the many 19th and 20th-century proposals for a railway to Labrador — usually with a terminus around Cape St. Charles or Chateau — might just have come to fruition... along with, eventually, a fixed link to a branch line running up the Northern Peninsula.

 

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