Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium
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High Frequency vs High Speed Rail Innovation in Canada: A Comparative Review

BTS sky train in Bangkok Thailand

High Frequency vs High Speed Rail Innovation in Canada: A Comparative Review


Fast Tracks or Frequent Stops: Transforming Canada’s rapid rail landscape


Rail transportation has been an essential mode of mass transit for decades, and it has been continually evolving and innovating. Today, the pressure is on transport managers, executives, OEMs, and government agencies to provide reliable and more efficient rail transport options. However, the two most prominent rail innovations of recent years – high speed and high-frequency rail – remain the topic of debate amongst policymakers and transportation stakeholders in Canada. 



So what’s the difference between high speed rail and high frequency rail?


High-frequency rail (HFR) systems are designed to move passengers shorter distances than high-speed rail (HSR) systems and operate at a higher frequency, typically between 8 and 20 trains per hour. HFR systems typically operate within urban areas and connect to regional or national rail networks. One of the most successful examples of HFR is France’s Transilien system, which carries more than three million passengers per day across the Paris metropolitan area. The system operates every 10 to 20 minutes during peak hours and connects to suburban rail lines and the national rail network. This system has helped reduce congestion and air pollution in Paris while providing commuters with an efficient and cost-effective means of transportation. The UK’s Great Western Railways and the Netherlands’ RandstadRail are also among some of the world’s most successful HFR systems. 



High-speed rail systems, on the other hand, are designed to move passengers long distances at high speeds, typically over 250 km/h. These systems require dedicated tracks, specialized trains, and extensive infrastructure investments. One of the most successful examples of HSR is China’s high-speed rail network, which covers over 38,000 km of lines and served more than 1.7 billion passengers in 2019. Not only has this system become a major driver of economic growth in China, but it has also reduced travel times and carbon emissions by providing a faster and cleaner alternative to air travel. Japan and France are another two excellent examples of countries that have successfully integrated this type of railway system into their transportation models. France’s Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and Japan’s Shinkansen systems run at speeds of up to 270 km/h and 320 km/h, respectively.



Rail innovation in Canada


In Canada, there are several upcoming projects that will redefine the future of transit. One of the most significant is the proposed high-frequency rail line between Toronto and Quebec City, which would connect some of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas and enhance intercity connectivity. The project is expected to cost between $6 and $12 billion and is currently undergoing an environmental assessment. 



Another important project is the proposed high-speed rail line between Calgary and Edmonton, which would reduce travel times and enhance mobility in Alberta. The project is currently in the planning phase, and the estimated cost is $20 billion.


Recent research has shown that high-frequency rail systems can be more efficient and cost-effective than high-speed rail systems for shorter distances. A study by the University of California, Berkeley found that high-frequency rail systems are better suited for distances of less than 800 km and that these systems can reduce carbon emissions and increase accessibility. Additionally, recent advances in technology, such as Hyperloop and Maglev trains, may offer new opportunities for high-speed travel while reducing energy use and carbon emissions.



How does innovation impact Canada’s rail transit systems?


As cities continue to grow and expand, the need for efficient and sustainable transportation solutions becomes ever more apparent. High-frequency rail and high-speed rail systems offer viable options for enhancing mobility, reducing carbon emissions, and facilitating  economic growth. While both systems have advantages and disadvantages, it is clear that the future of transit in Canada and around the world will be shaped by new,  innovative technologies. With several exciting projects in the pipeline and ongoing research into new technologies, the possibilities for the future of rail are significant. By embracing innovation, we can create a more connected and sustainable future for generations to come.





Discover more about this subject and many other interesting topics at CUTRIC’s Smart Rail Innovation Conference, taking place virtually on March 20, 2024.



The conference brings together industry experts, innovators, policymakers, and stakeholders to explore the latest advancements and challenges in the realm of smart rail innovation in Canada. This dynamic event will cover a wide range of topics, including hydrogen rail, high-speed rail, LRT challenges, cybersecurity, battery electric bus integration with rail station charging equipment, passenger data analysis, rail-to-bus transit integration scheduling, and autonomous bus crossings with autonomous rail system feasibility analysis.

Upcoming Events

High Frequency vs High Speed Rail Innovation in Canada: A Comparative Review

Zero Emission Transit and Mobility Conference 2024

Burlington Convention Centre

At CUTRIC’s 6th annual 2024 ZETM conference, we will be diving deep into the world of transit electrification strategy, technical