News   May 06, 2021
 439     0 
News   May 06, 2021
 657     0 
News   May 06, 2021
 445     0 

VIA Rail

Urban Sky

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 5, 2014
Messages
865
Reaction score
1,638
Location
Montreal
Not that is going to happen. But I'd love to see pax rail take on staggered seating . Both for privacy and not a slight boost in health security.
Not sure how well such a layout would work if travelling with partner/family/friends...
 

Urban Sky

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 5, 2014
Messages
865
Reaction score
1,638
Location
Montreal
The release of (the summary of) VIA's most recent (i.e. 2019-2023) Corporate Plan has already been noted and discussed here a few weeks ago, but while most of you were discussing and worrying about the potential effect of the loss of the possibility to turn the Ocean's equipment through the Port of Halifax, I read something in the plan which made me really excited and that was the release of direct costs and revenues figures.

But first of all, what is so special about direct costs and revenues? Well, like most companies, VIA differentiates between expenses and costs which result from its direct activities (e.g. operating trains and selling tickets), indirect activities (e.g. marketing and maintenance) and overheads (e.g. management and other corporate functions, including the salaries for HQ folks like myself). Given that VIA is a Crown Corporation which only recovers just under 60% of its operating expenses from its passengers and the remaining 40% from the taxpayer, politicians and bureaucrats (as the administrators of the tax revenue collected from individual and corporate taxpayers) demand accountability for where that taxpayer money went and for these reasons all the expenses and costs are allocated towards the various routes VIA operates (as its principal commercial activities), which is straight-forward in the case of direct expenses and costs, tricky in the case of indirect expenses and outright difficult in the case of overheads: because any activity which doesn't directly relate to one particular route (or any route at all) needs to be allocated proportionally to the most relevant (or better: least arbitrary) metric (as a distribution key), which could be the passenger count, passenger-mileage, seat-miles, train-miles or even the revenue itself.

Anyways, whereas these fully-allocated costs are appropriate for anyone interested in how VIA's subsidy distributes across its network, this approach obscures whether certain parts are actually increasing or decreasing the overall deficit. Naturally, the information about how much cost, revenues and profits (or losses) a certain route generates is valuable information for competitors (which could use this information to determine which markets to enter or to avoid), which could hurt the company publishing this information, which is why such information is usually guarded as commercial secrets and therefore very difficult to come by. That is, except you work in the "right" departments at VIA's HQ, but that unfortunately also means that you have to forget that you know them and instead refer only to publicly available information and this is why I'm so excited about reading these figures, because these are figures I can actually use in my posts here:
1585527195888.png

1585527204727.png

Source: VIA Rail's Summary of the 2019-2023 Corporate Plan (pp.20-21)

As you've might have noticed, VIA refers to direct costs and expenses as "variable", indirect costs and expenses as "semi-variable" and to overheads as "fixed", but this is just a different way to say the same. Either way, when piecing the figures from above excerpt together and cross-referencing it with VIA Rail's last two Annual Plans, you can separate the direct costs and expenses of operating services from the non-direct ones and that not just for VIA overall, but also for the Canadian, the Ocean, the Corridor and its Remote services:

1585527242974.png

Compiled from: VIA Rail's Summary of the Corporate Plan and Annual Plans 2017 and 2018
Note: figures in bold are provided in above documents, whereas all other figures are derived from these figures.

But what do all these figures mean? For instance, whereas $294.0 million (or 96.3%) out of the $305.3 million in operating revenues reported in the Annual Report 2018 for the Corridor are directly associated with the operation of Corridor trains, only $217.0 million (or 48.3%) out of the $448.8 million of its operating costs are, which means that the Corridor services recover 135.5% of their direct costs of operating and contribute $77.0 million towards non-direct (i.e. "semi-variable" or "fixed") costs and revenues of the Crown Corporation. Similarly, whereas $367.9 million (or 93.7%) out of the $392.6 million in operating revenues reported for the total VIA Network are directly associated with the operation of Corridor trains, only $328.8 million (or 49.6%) out of the $662.6 million of its operating costs are, which means that all VIA services collectively recover 111.9% of their direct costs of operating and contribute $33.0 million towards non-direct (i.e. "semi-variable" or "fixed") costs and revenues of the Crown Corporation. This means that $37.8 million (or 49.1%) of the $77.0 million which the Corridor services contributes towards the non-direct costs and revenues is offset by the direct deficit of the other (non-Corridor) services.

So what can we learn from these figures? First of all, it explains why VIA was able to decrease its overall (operating) subsidy need from $317.1 million in 2014 to $272.6 million in 2018* (i.e. a reduction of 14.0%) while increasing its total train mileage from 6.16 million in 2014 to 6.825 million in 2018, because all of this 10.8% increase occurred on its only network part which generated a direct contribution in 2018: the Corridor. This is good news for everyone arguing for increased Corridor service and - of course - underlines why VIA believes that HFR would allow it eliminate its overall subsidy need for the Corridor: because it would allow it to increase and grow its Corridor services until the point where the contribution of these services offsets (or even exceeds) the amount of non-direct deficits allocated to these routes.

However, there is also a second learning point and that concerns the Canadian: Even though the 2018 figures show a moderate direct deficit of $6.5 million (or 9.7% of its direct expenses) for 2018, the 2017 figures actually show a small contribution of $0.8 million towards the Corporation's non-direct deficit. This is of course in strong contrast with occasional media reports which call the Canadian "surely the First World’s most dysfunctional train" or posters like "Ssiguy2" or "micheal_can" which obsessively call its subsidy obscene and want to divert it towards either different modes or the resurrection of an extensive passenger rail network in Western Canada...

*Note that this figure is slightly higher than the $270.1 million shown in above table, as these figures taken from p.8 of the Annual Report 2018 include the deficit of the Keewatin Railway Company between The Pas and Pukatawagan (which is paid through VIA's operating budget, despite not being a VIA operation)

(this post continues below)

Edit (2020-04-01): Fixed the link to the 2019-2023 Corporate Plan at the beginning of this post, which linked to the Financial Tables rather than the actual document.
 
Last edited:

Urban Sky

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 5, 2014
Messages
865
Reaction score
1,638
Location
Montreal
(continued from above post)

The Canadian was actually on-time 84% of the time a decade ago? That's not fantasyland?

TIL.

1583258686115-png.234216

Actually, speaking about unfair (or in this case rather: outdated) criticisms of the Canadian, the problem of excessive delays was subject to a media report recently, which was basically spun around a quote from the 2018-2022 Corporate Plan (i.e. the one preceding the one you were quoting):

Tourism operators have indicated their displeasure and many are contemplating leaving the Canadian off their offerings putting further pressure on the service. It is, as well, becoming increasingly difficult to arrange alternate accommodations, both for passengers and our crews. This situation is a serious embarrassment for Canada's reputation and the Canada brand, in North America and abroad. Travellers return home with the lasting impression wondering how a G7 nation cannot operate its trains on time.

Now, having been delayed myself almost 24 hours on my first trip on the Canadian (together with my wife) in summer 2015, I am well aware how bad delays can get on the Canadian. However, when I took it again last April, it was running more than 6 hours late through the Prairies, but still arrived 18 minutes early into Toronto. To demonstrate that I was not just lucky the second time, I have looked up every single departure on ReserVIA and compiled it into this handy table:

1585527785262.png

Compiled from: train data obtained from ReserVIA by playing around with the date stamp in the URL.
Note: unfortunately, ReserVIA only saves train data for just over a year and I’ve only started downloading all instances of trains #1 and #2 recently (i.e. starting with Train #1 of 2019-02-09). For the same reason, all data shown for Jasper only includes train departures which can also be found in my Dropbox folder.

Now what change reduced this issue so significantly? We are talking of course about the two timetable changes which took place in the last 2 years, as throughout the first half of 2018, the timetable which had been in place since 2008 (when the timetable was already extended by 12 hours, thus requiring the operation with four instead of 3 consists) only had relevance until Train #2 hit the Prairies, with delays accumulating to the point that Train #2 routinely arrived into Toronto in excess of 10 hours late. This reliably pushed the departure time of Train #1 to the next morning (as a minimum turn-around time of 6 hours in Toronto would place the earliest possible departure time into the middle of the night), meaning that it would already depart almost 12 hours late, at which point the operation of Canadian would become so erratic that it would show up in Edmonton, Jasper and Vancouver at any time of the day. The situation escalated with the operation of the round-trips (from Vancouver to Toronto and back) of trains #2 of Friday, May 11, 2018 and Sunday, May 20, 2018:
  • Train #2 of Friday, May 11th departed Vancouver on time (at 20:30), but arrived Toronto only in the early morning (02:28) of Wednesday (16th), thus 17 hours late and 4.5 hours after (!) the scheduled departure time of Train #1 of May 15th.
  • Train #1 of Tuesday, May 15th consequently departed only in the early Wednesday afternoon (14:30, thus 16.5 hours late) and arrived into Vancouver Sunday afternoon (15:34), thus almost 30 hours late and less than 5 hours before the scheduled departure of the next round trip.
  • Train #2 of Sunday, May 20th was consequently delayed until the next morning and departed at 08:10 (thus 11.5 hours late) and arrived into Toronto only in the early afternoon (13:05) of Friday, May 25th, thus 27.5 hours late and 15 hours after (!) the scheduled departure time of Train #1 of May 24th.
  • On Friday, May 25th, VIA Rail cancelled the departure of Train #1 of Thursday, May 24th (which had already been postponed until Friday) would be cancelled, as well as its return trip from Vancouver as Train #2 of Tuesday, May 29th, in order to allow operations to recover from these massive delays.
In the same press release announcing the cancellations of the round trip mentioned above, its CEO at time stated that "we are currently working with our infrastructure partner on a new schedule, to start during the peak summer period, that will provide a longer but more predictable travel time" and this new schedule was announced in a separate press release one month later (on June 22), to take effect on July 26. The Achilles' heel of the schedule used since 2008 was clearly the short layover of barely over 12 hours in Toronto, which provided insufficient to compensate the significant delays Train #2 routinely accumulated through the prairies. The departure time of Train #2 was therefore moved from 15:00 to 12:00 (which decreased the risk of forcing the departure of Train #1 to be postponed to the next day, which would regularly force VIA to put outbound passengers into a Hotel) and the arrival time in Toronto was moved from 09:30 to 14:00 (which decreased the risk of passengers feeling tempted to book onward transportation for the same day, thus frequently causing missed flights and forced VIA to put incoming stranded passengers into a Hotel). As for Train #1, its departure time remained unchanged, but its arrival time into Vancouver was changed from 09:42 to 18:00, which virtually eliminated the risk of passengers feeling tempted to book an outgoing flight for the same evening.

Even though this reduced the risk of next-morning departures of Train #1, it did not eliminate it entirely (note in above table that the average delay at departure decreased from over 9 to just under 2 hours) and the timetable was completely reworked with the start of last year's peak season, featuring prolonged turn-around times on both ends of the Canadian's route, thus exploiting the fact that the summer-only third weekly frequency would only operate between Vancouver and Edmonton, while CN was increasing track capacity across the Prairies:
1585528055049.png

Compiled from: official VIA Rail timetables

The success in reducing the delays on the Canadian can be seen in the following graphs, which shows that arriving no later than the advertised arrival time of Train #2 in Toronto under the new schedule is roughly as likely (44% vs. 46.5%) as arriving no more than 12 hours late was under the old schedule (in early 2018), while arriving no more than 6 hours late under the new schedule is roughly as likely (90.5% vs. 91.5%) as arriving no more than 24 hours late under the old schedule:

1585528155032.png

Compiled from: train data obtained from ReserVIA by playing around with the date stamp in the URL.

An even more drastic improvement can be shown for Train #1, where arriving in Vancouver no later than 3 hours prior (!) to the advertised arrival time is roughly as likely (31.7% vs. 31.4%) under the current schedule as arriving 13 hours late under the old schedule, while arriving no more than 4 hours late is roughly as likely (95.1% vs. 95.7%) than arriving no more than 30 (!) hours late under the old schedule:

1585528216375.png

Compiled from: train data obtained from ReserVIA by playing around with the date stamp in the URL.

So what does this tell you about the quality and relevance of certain media reports made about the Canadian? Maybe that heavily relying on a two year old report which describes the situation 3 years ago to describe the current situation might make for a captivating, but not necessarily timely or accurate story...
 
Last edited:

Garuda

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 21, 2013
Messages
199
Reaction score
308
With the new fleet being bi directional, I wonder if VIA will make a firm decision which direction the locomotives face- east or west.

they should face east with the cab cars facing west to align with GO Transit’s fleet policy.
 

kEiThZ

Superstar
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
10,160
Reaction score
4,086
@alexanderglista

Great find!

Given current events, I would expect at least 6-12 months of slippage on all those schedules. And I am wondering why they have so many configs. Surely, they could do with just a long/short mix.
 

Urban Sky

Active Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 5, 2014
Messages
865
Reaction score
1,638
Location
Montreal
And I am wondering why they have so many configs. Surely, they could do with just a long/short mix.


Fleet typeExtra ShortShortLongExtra Long
Locomotive1111
Business – 3A1111
Business – 3B11
Economy – 1B112
Economy – 1A1112
Economy – 4A1111
Train lengthLoco + 3 carsLoco + 4 carsLoco + 5 carsLoco + 7 cars

Do you notice something?
 

crs1026

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 16, 2014
Messages
6,902
Reaction score
9,430
With the new fleet being bi directional, I wonder if VIA will make a firm decision which direction the locomotives face- east or west.

they should face east with the cab cars facing west to align with GO Transit’s fleet policy.

I can't imagine that VIA would care how GO runs its trains, nor would they assume that GO’s practice is cast in stone.

What will matter is how the running maintenance facilities will be laid out. I would expect these would be bidirectional, but perhaps hotel power etc will assume locos on a particular end. With wyes available in Toronto and Montreal, heavy maintenance doesn’t necessitate a particular direction.

- Paul
 

smallspy

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Nov 27, 2009
Messages
4,357
Reaction score
4,172
I can't imagine that VIA would care how GO runs its trains, nor would they assume that GO’s practice is cast in stone.

What will matter is how the running maintenance facilities will be laid out. I would expect these would be bidirectional, but perhaps hotel power etc will assume locos on a particular end. With wyes available in Toronto and Montreal, heavy maintenance doesn’t necessitate a particular direction.

- Paul

While you're certainly right that VIA won't care how GO runs its trains....

There are certainly constraints to consider within its own maintenance areas. For instance at the TMC, while the PM bays, running repair areas and fuel racks can be accessed from both ends/directions, the heavy repair area and wheel changeout table are only accessible from the west side of the facility. I haven't been to MMC, but I suspect that it is laid out in a similar manner.

The long and the short of it is - I can't see VIA operating in the same manner as GO, with the locos always at the same end.

And while they are going to be making changes to both facilities, I can't see them making major structural changes to how they are laid out which would facilitate the above.

By the by, shore power connections are agnostic - they don't care whether they are plugged into a loco or a car. And if VIA upgrades their systems to be similar to GO's, they will even be able to drive a block heater system in the loco from the far end of the train.

Dan
 

crs1026

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 16, 2014
Messages
6,902
Reaction score
9,430
(continued from above post)
So what does this tell you about the quality and relevance of certain media reports made about the Canadian? Maybe that heavily relying on a two year old report which describes the situation 3 years ago to describe the current situation might make for a captivating, but not necessarily timely or accurate story...

It’s a bit unfortunate that such a meaty post arrived at a time when some of us don’t have our heads in the game enough to digest the valuable data it contains, I’m very grateful to have it to come back to. It gives us factual data that we can point to when we think about VIA’s path forward.

The point I take away from the discussion about costs is - it gives data to demonstrate that for both Corridor and Long Distance routes, adding service will contribute revenue faster than it will increase cost.

I know that VIA does everything it can to reduce fixed cost, but one can only cut so far. VIA’s infrastructure is underutilised in many places, and an added service that breaks even on the avoidable level will leverage that spare capacit.

So a business strategy that emphasizes growth, and rejects service rejections, makes intuitive sense.... but it’s so good to have data that demonstrates that.,

- Paul
 

crs1026

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Oct 16, 2014
Messages
6,902
Reaction score
9,430
While you're certainly right that VIA won't care how GO runs its trains....

There are certainly constraints to consider within its own maintenance areas. For instance at the TMC, while the PM bays, running repair areas and fuel racks can be accessed from both ends/directions, the heavy repair area and wheel changeout table are only accessible from the west side of the facility. I haven't been to MMC, but I suspect that it is laid out in a similar manner.

It will be interesting to see what the practices are for heavy maintenance. I can’t see VIA nosing complete coupled consists into those heavy maintenance areas very often. For some tasks the locos will have to be uncoupled, even if the theory is semipermanent trainsets. As noted, turning an uncoupled loco is no big deal.

There have been cases where VIA has sent locomotives across from the TMC to GO Willowbrook for maintenance tasks that the TMC isn’t equipped for. In at least one case I know of, the VIA loco faced in opposite direction to GO locos. So, while GO’s running maintenance may be set up and tooled for one direction, that doesn’t mean heavy maintenance must be unidirectional.

- Paul
 

kEiThZ

Superstar
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
10,160
Reaction score
4,086
Do you notice something?

Sure. Long and Extra-Long as business heavy configs. And the increases are 1 car increments except for Extra-Long. And I guess Short + Extra-Short ~= Extra-Long

I dunno, maybe it's the aero eng in me, but I hate multiple configs and I am always skeptical of how much operational efficiency it really adds, given the operational complexity it adds. So mostly just curious if they could have done with fewer....
 

kEiThZ

Superstar
Member Bio
Joined
Jul 31, 2008
Messages
10,160
Reaction score
4,086
This is going to be one hell of a bad year for VIA. From the pipeline protests to Covid, I feel for our national rail operator and its employees. I sincerely hope we see HFR as part of the stimulus plan. VIA needs some good news.
 

micheal_can

Senior Member
Member Bio
Joined
Dec 24, 2016
Messages
2,444
Reaction score
1,534
This is going to be one hell of a bad year for VIA. From the pipeline protests to Covid, I feel for our national rail operator and its employees. I sincerely hope we see HFR as part of the stimulus plan. VIA needs some good news.

I would expect it would be. My thinking i any transit/transportation projects that are shovel ready will be done. Then not only does it stimulate the economy, but it will also give the various politicians something to show that they care about us.
 

Top