Monday, January 11, 2016

Off Topic - Single Point of Failure

An off topic post this morning, about roads, not politics.

Canada has been cut in two!

Now, as some of you may know, I'm a transportation geek. I actually know the only place you can cut Canada in two is not here, but right at the Ontario-Manitoba border. There are small back roads that will get you around the northern side of Lake Nipigon, but these roads are not the kind of thing you want to rely on. However, the Ontario-Manitoba border does contain something.

A single point of failure, which, if cut, causes the entire network to fail.

You can see the disaster caused by a cut in an area where there is actually an alternative, just an alternative that is extremely precarious. There are, today, people who are effectively stranded in one "half" of Canada who can not get to the other as they do not have a passport. Not everyone has the money to leave their car behind and take a taxi the rest of the way to or from Calgary.

This issue; this specific issue, that of how easy it is to slice our nation in half, is something that I've been harping on about for quite some time now. One only need to look at the Tasman Bridge disaster to see what impact they can have; and this was just on a small scale. Who knows how long it will take to repair our bridge, and for that entire time, every car with a BC Licence Plate you see in Ontario, or with a Quebec plate in Manitoba, is effectively stranded.

The idea of a SPOF, or Single Point of Failure is usually used in electronics and computing, but it applies to so much more. I've made it one of my personal missions to warn people about SPOF's in all sorts of systems, and often feel a bit like a Cassandra when it happens and nobody has listened; Unlike our mystical friend, I don't simply stop when I've been proven correct; I get very aggressive in order to ensure that such a thing never happens again.

From time to time I will point out some major SPOF's in our modern society, many of which exist on transportation networks across the country (one of which is listed above) but will not overwhelm you with all of them at once. My hope is that during the quiet times (winter, summer) I can make a few off topic posts to point these out so that, perhaps foolishly, I believe that these can be remedied before they turn into serious problems.


  1. This is an important issue, which I had never really thought about. Thanks for bringing it up.

    1. There are more small-scale and local examples, and not just involving roads. St. George subway station in Toronto is another area that, if cut, would cause a transit nightmare. The autoroute 55 bridge in Trois Rivieres is, literally, the only bridge across the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec City. An intersection near Goobies in Newfoundland could cut that province in three. Perhaps more important than any of these economically, is that if highway 63 in Alberta is cut north of highway 881, the entire oil patch is separated from the rest of the country.

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