Could hydro corridors be used as high speed rail corridors?

I am tempted to think so. As a supporter of a high-speed rail system for certain corridors in Canada, I am familiar with the usual arguments against such a project. Whether it is “too expensive”; “won’t work in our weather”; or “impossible to get a right-of-way”– most of them do not hold much water. The last argument– that right of way is unavailable or too difficult to acquire– to me is the strongest of the arguments. It got me thinking: what would be the easiest way to solve this problem?

Hydro transmission corridors are huge swaths of mostly clear land that slice through our cities and countryside, allowing electricity generated in one part of the province to be transferred great distances over high-voltage lines. Because they respond to demand for electricity, many of the corridors blaze a trail from major power producers to major power users (i.e. large urban centres). In fact, if you look at a map [PDF] of these corridors, the system looks quite similar to our other large infrastructure right-of-ways– highways, railways and the like. In some cases, the corridors are almost “as the crow flies” from city to city.

One of the major reasons they are so straight is that these corridors do not have to respond to variability in the terrain like highways and railways do. This obviously does not work for high speed rail, which requires mostly flat terrain. However, there’s no reason that surrounding land could not be acquired in order to avoid significant topographical features. Using existing hydro corridors would probably reduce expropriation by 90% (no evidence for this number, that’s just my opinion).

What if Ontario Hydro agreed to a lease of its property for such purposes? Would it actually work? Would the removal of such a significant barrier (right-of-way acquisition) change our governments’ current reticence to pursue such a project?

Note: I am definitely not the first person to think of this. I have found at least one example: the Maryland Department of Transportation studied the suitability of hydro rights-of-way [PDF report] for transportation infrastructure in 2002. If you know of any other examples, especially in the Canadian context, please let me know in the comments below.

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