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VIA Rail

micheal_can

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Ripping up capacity where it wasn't needed, and creating it where it is. We as a country decided we did not want to subsidize unneeded capacity. Now we are getting to the point where we will have to to continue economic growth. With decades in between.

No, they wanted to save a buck. The country was fixated on cutting the deficit. Now we are left with the mess. It should not only come from the taxpayers. It should also come from the shareholders of CN and CP.
 

jayme2016

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No, they wanted to save a buck. The country was fixated on cutting the deficit. Now we are left with the mess. It should not only come from the taxpayers. It should also come from the shareholders of CN and CP.

This is the same debate we had many years ago about the 407 lets sell it and let a private company run and it look at us now.
 

crs1026

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As of 1970, there was capacity for both freight and passenger in Canada, and the two coexisted reasonably well. Technological change combined with railways' pruning their assets is what has made passenger service more difficult. The perfect example is the Kingston Sub - when CN procured the Turbos, they also installed CTC with sidings every 20-30 miles, specifically to allow the faster passenger trains to overtake freights by shifting the freights into the sidings. Over the last 50 years, freight trains outgrew the sidings, so CN removed them.... and then CN walked back its commitment to expedite the Turbo and its LRC successor.

The article makes a valid point that European freight has been constrained by a rigid passenger train template. Here, the pendulum was swung in exactly the opposite direction, and just as far over..... freight productivity has been pursued without regard for preserving passenger capability. That's an equally harmful result. There is no reason to believe that we will make the same mistake if we try to land somewhere in the middle.

Some of the promotion of freight productivity was appropriate and probably unavoidable - for example, removing cabooses from freight trains changed operating procedures in ways that impacted passenger operations.... and no one is arguing to put back the caboose. Safety standards have demanded investment - moderate to heavy passenger train operation over unsignalled lines is not longer acceptable. The point is, the people who have been overseeing the infrastructure for the last 50 years have not taken an evenhanded approach to expediting passenger and freight. They have allowed the passenger side to be sacrificed for the freight side. And they allowed the railways to remove assets that should have been left in place and expanded as freight business grew. VIA is hamstrung by this lax regulation.

As for capacity, between Montreal and Toronto there is still plenty, but it is not leveraged in the most win-win manner. Leaving this alone, while spending public money on a sub optimal HFR configuration, is not the right solution.

- Paul
 
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Darwinkgo

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This is the same debate we had many years ago about the 407 lets sell it and let a private company run and it look at us now.
The 407 was always meant to be a free standing privately funded project - when it was launched by the NDP! Then they ran into difficulty - no company wanted to finance it up front, so the model was changed by the NDP to build then sell. The price it was sold it didn't reflect the chance that interest rates would fall greatly for a long stretch, making the asset worth way more than it otherwise would have been.
 

jayme2016

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The 407 was always meant to be a free standing privately funded project - when it was launched by the NDP! Then they ran into difficulty - no company wanted to finance it up front, so the model was changed by the NDP to build then sell. The price it was sold it didn't reflect the chance that interest rates would fall greatly for a long stretch, making the asset worth way more than it otherwise would have been.

Say someone offers Via but they want to end the western routes and just have the Windsor-Quebec would people outwest not feel the Feds turned there back on them.
 

Darwinkgo

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No, they wanted to save a buck. The country was fixated on cutting the deficit. Now we are left with the mess. It should not only come from the taxpayers. It should also come from the shareholders of CN and CP.
And we all saved a buck, as taxpayers. The removal and not upgrading of passing sidings cited above came when? When CN was still solidly a crown corp no? Heavily implied it was before the LRC era. Our government decided that it did not want to invest in passenger rail. What you're really complaining about isn't the policy as a whole, which has been widely successful, but focused results in very specific areas that the government of the day did not prioritize for passengers. The policy has been good for Canada - volume up and costs down (including for shippers).

Were there a few lines that would have been useful to keep in hindsight? Maybe? Namely the subs that are now looked at for HFR. Most of those were never maintained to the standard needed for modern VIA service though - not since the immediately after WWII. Modifying corridors to allow more freight through double stacking, but with fewer double tracked sections - should that have been prevented to maintain train frequency? Should we have invested for 30, 40, 50 years to make something just a smidgen cheaper today? Certainly not on an NPV basis.

The facts are despite the frustrations of some, it can be better to rip something out and replace it, especially if you get decades of cost savings in between. Should the government have maintained and upgraded the systems for the Turbo priority? I can get behind that - seems a low relative cost compared to all the other fanciful ideas about how the system should have been run differently forever.
 

Darwinkgo

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Say someone offers Via but they want to end the western routes and just have the Windsor-Quebec would people outwest not feel the Feds turned there back on them.
Privatize the corridor in that circumstance. Mandate minimum service standards, regulate a maximum rate of return (common in P3s these days, to avoid asset pricing problems). If they can do it, why should the government provide the service?

You can keep VIA elsewhere as a crown, and deal with it as a different matter. It isn't like VIA is a viable transportation option for cross Canada routes. It would be missed sure - it is probably bemoaned in Calgary a bit. Where it is an essential service (northern Ontario, northern BC), VIA or another entity could maintain a service focused on serving those who need that service. Calgary's route was privatized and turned into the Rocky Mountaineer - which I don't even think comes into the city anymore! I doubt more than 1 out of 1000 would know that or care.
 

crs1026

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^Some of the asset shedding dates from the Mulroney cuts in 1990. That may be stale beer at this point, but the trend line is consistent.

The cuts made by Tellier and Harrison happened in more recent days and harmed both the taxpayer and the railway shipper (and the communities that lost service or industries as a result, or saw freight shifted to trucks). Sure, the shareholders made out like bandits (I'm a minor CP and CN shareholder, btw - the dividends are nice) but there should have been more regulatory opposition particularly where passenger service was eroded.

VIA is most efficient as an integrated company. So long as the long distance trains remain, there is no gain for the taxpayer in splitting the corporate functions - two legal departments, two reservation systems, two maintenance organizations will not be cheaper than one. I suppose the White River service doesn't need online reservations, perhaps they could operate from an on board cash fare process.... but most others are most efficiently serviced from VIA corporate.

HFR will be a virtual privatized service, by virtue of having a banker and a promise to operate without subsidy (even if the taxpayer forgets about the latter, the bureaucrats won't). But no Board independence, and no legal mandate. Again, HFR will depend on a full set of corporate functions and will be only one competing client of these. I would be happier if there were such legislation, yes.... but be careful what you ask for. A VIA Board that doesn't have to cowtow to Ottawa, well....

I have a theory that if HFR proceeds in Alberta, or if a Banff passenger service is pursued, VIA may not be the operator.

HFR will continue to have a tenancy with CN in some critical places. I wonder by what mechanism VIA's rights and delivery performance will suddenly be better managed. I wonder how it can be so easy to clear the way under an HFR scenario when it is said to be so difficult under any other scenario? Has CN somehow seen the light? Is removing some of the trains from its Kingston line so compelling that it has found a new commitment to remove interference where HFR needs priority?

- Paul
 

Bordercollie

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But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.
 

roger1818

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But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.

The trains that remain on the old corridor will be, on average, substantially slower (because of more stops). As has been said before, it is the speed of the VIA trains that CN doesn't like.
 

Darwinkgo

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Have to temper the want for industrial spurs everywhere and lines serving them (the old way) with trucks for much regional in Canada freight movement with the adoption of time value of money approach and just in time delivery to inventory management by customers. Freight rail might be cheaper even from one industrial spur to the other, but if it takes 10x as long, the direct cost is not the only cost to the freight user. We’re bemoaning infrastructure loss here, but really we’re bemoaning the loss of another world which doesn’t exist anymore.
 

dowlingm

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@Darwinkgo you assert that there is no capacity for open access but then assert that the capacity was reduced to meet demand - which sounds like the definition of chutzpah.*

by contrast, the aviation industry exploded in size as the restrictions of regimes like Fifth Freedom were largely replaced by open skies regimes. Airports have had to expand in size and air traffic control systems in complexity. Who is to say that in an open access scenario that shippers couldn’t gain by being able to contract with an operator with capacity rather than the one who owns their branch but is overextended in respect of rolling stock.

* “Chutzpah is when a son kills his mother and father and asks the court at sentencing to show him mercy because he is an orphan.”
 

micheal_can

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This is the same debate we had many years ago about the 407 lets sell it and let a private company run and it look at us now.

It is under utilized, overpriced, and suffers subpar construction.

As of 1970, there was capacity for both freight and passenger in Canada, and the two coexisted reasonably well. Technological change combined with railways' pruning their assets is what has made passenger service more difficult. The perfect example is the Kingston Sub - when CN procured the Turbos, they also installed CTC with sidings every 20-30 miles, specifically to allow the faster passenger trains to overtake freights by shifting the freights into the sidings. Over the last 50 years, freight trains outgrew the sidings, so CN removed them.... and then CN walked back its commitment to expedite the Turbo and its LRC successor.

The article makes a valid point that European freight has been constrained by a rigid passenger train template. Here, the pendulum was swung in exactly the opposite direction, and just as far over..... freight productivity has been pursued without regard for preserving passenger capability. That's an equally harmful result. There is no reason to believe that we will make the same mistake if we try to land somewhere in the middle.

Some of the promotion of freight productivity was appropriate and probably unavoidable - for example, removing cabooses from freight trains changed operating procedures in ways that impacted passenger operations.... and no one is arguing to put back the caboose. Safety standards have demanded investment - moderate to heavy passenger train operation over unsignalled lines is not longer acceptable. The point is, the people who have been overseeing the infrastructure for the last 50 years have not taken an evenhanded approach to expediting passenger and freight. They have allowed the passenger side to be sacrificed for the freight side. And they allowed the railways to remove assets that should have been left in place and expanded as freight business grew. VIA is hamstrung by this lax regulation.

As for capacity, between Montreal and Toronto there is still plenty, but it is not leveraged in the most win-win manner. Leaving this alone, while spending public money on a sub optimal HFR configuration, is not the right solution.

- Paul

Now they have "over siding" trains that are one of the reasons the Canadian gets late. The reason they run those trains is because they can. This all goes back to the regulation. For example, they could simply have the regulation have priority given to passenger trains on scheduled service. It would tie CN and CP's hands and force them to restore that which they removed decades ago.

Say someone offers Via but they want to end the western routes and just have the Windsor-Quebec would people outwest not feel the Feds turned there back on them.

You mean like how CP left the Maritimes? The problem is Via has made everything outside of the Corridor irrelevant. They could quietly end all of those other services and I doubt it would be noticed by most people.

And we all saved a buck, as taxpayers. The removal and not upgrading of passing sidings cited above came when? When CN was still solidly a crown corp no? Heavily implied it was before the LRC era. Our government decided that it did not want to invest in passenger rail. What you're really complaining about isn't the policy as a whole, which has been widely successful, but focused results in very specific areas that the government of the day did not prioritize for passengers. The policy has been good for Canada - volume up and costs down (including for shippers).

Were there a few lines that would have been useful to keep in hindsight? Maybe? Namely the subs that are now looked at for HFR. Most of those were never maintained to the standard needed for modern VIA service though - not since the immediately after WWII. Modifying corridors to allow more freight through double stacking, but with fewer double tracked sections - should that have been prevented to maintain train frequency? Should we have invested for 30, 40, 50 years to make something just a smidgen cheaper today? Certainly not on an NPV basis.

The facts are despite the frustrations of some, it can be better to rip something out and replace it, especially if you get decades of cost savings in between. Should the government have maintained and upgraded the systems for the Turbo priority? I can get behind that - seems a low relative cost compared to all the other fanciful ideas about how the system should have been run differently forever.

The native blockades showed CN and CP that their shortsightedness can bring their entire network to a standstill. To hear that ONR engineers had to ride along in a CN container train to get it up to the Val D'or area would have been unthinkable. At least they had an option. CP was stuck. Hopefully they are learning from this and we see some smarter ideas to increase profit besides cutting lines.

^Some of the asset shedding dates from the Mulroney cuts in 1990. That may be stale beer at this point, but the trend line is consistent.

The cuts made by Tellier and Harrison happened in more recent days and harmed both the taxpayer and the railway shipper (and the communities that lost service or industries as a result, or saw freight shifted to trucks). Sure, the shareholders made out like bandits (I'm a minor CP and CN shareholder, btw - the dividends are nice) but there should have been more regulatory opposition particularly where passenger service was eroded.

VIA is most efficient as an integrated company. So long as the long distance trains remain, there is no gain for the taxpayer in splitting the corporate functions - two legal departments, two reservation systems, two maintenance organizations will not be cheaper than one. I suppose the White River service doesn't need online reservations, perhaps they could operate from an on board cash fare process.... but most others are most efficiently serviced from VIA corporate.

HFR will be a virtual privatized service, by virtue of having a banker and a promise to operate without subsidy (even if the taxpayer forgets about the latter, the bureaucrats won't). But no Board independence, and no legal mandate. Again, HFR will depend on a full set of corporate functions and will be only one competing client of these. I would be happier if there were such legislation, yes.... but be careful what you ask for. A VIA Board that doesn't have to cowtow to Ottawa, well....

I have a theory that if HFR proceeds in Alberta, or if a Banff passenger service is pursued, VIA may not be the operator.

HFR will continue to have a tenancy with CN in some critical places. I wonder by what mechanism VIA's rights and delivery performance will suddenly be better managed. I wonder how it can be so easy to clear the way under an HFR scenario when it is said to be so difficult under any other scenario? Has CN somehow seen the light? Is removing some of the trains from its Kingston line so compelling that it has found a new commitment to remove interference where HFR needs priority?

- Paul

It is one thing when the government does stupid things to balance a budget. It is a whole other thing when stupid things are done to increase profits.

But it's not like the trains in the old corridor will disappear. Wouldn't CN benefit from improvements to it's current corridor instead of having VIA build its own? I know they don't want VIA on their tracks but to get free upgrades to your tracks with some conditions, is not a bad thing.

It may be more like it is no longer worth those minor upgrades. Freight trains do not travel beyond 60mph in Canada. Any improvements beyond that speed is a waste of money for the challenges that having Via on their line bring.

The trains that remain on the old corridor will be, on average, substantially slower (because of more stops). As has been said before, it is the speed of the VIA trains that CN doesn't like.

Even those slower trains will be a hassle in CN's eyes.

Have to temper the want for industrial spurs everywhere and lines serving them (the old way) with trucks for much regional in Canada freight movement with the adoption of time value of money approach and just in time delivery to inventory management by customers. Freight rail might be cheaper even from one industrial spur to the other, but if it takes 10x as long, the direct cost is not the only cost to the freight user. We’re bemoaning infrastructure loss here, but really we’re bemoaning the loss of another world which doesn’t exist anymore.

A time where roads were not beaten down by trucks. Here in Sudbury, 100 km is a magical number. If a haul truck travels more than 100 km, then it is more economical to use a train. Meanwhile, those at 99km are beating down the roads.

We have been racing to the bottom by selling off our infrastructure one piece at a time. Now, we have a mess. Someone can correct me on this, but, right now, we are running the oldest equipment ever for passenger service (RCDs) with no plan in replacement. Our roads are in a constant state of disrepair. And our available services are down. Governments do what is best more for the corporations and less for the citizens, regardless of political party.

Maybe this pandemic will change that. Likely not, but one could hope.
 

lenaitch

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The native blockades showed CN and CP that their shortsightedness can bring their entire network to a standstill. To hear that ONR engineers had to ride along in a CN container train to get it up to the Val D'or area would have been unthinkable. At least they had an option. CP was stuck. Hopefully they are learning from this and we see some smarter ideas to increase profit besides cutting lines.

How was that "unthinkable"? Running crews have to be qualified on routes even within their own company. The CN crews would have no clue about the ONR track geometry and likely couldn't communicate with anyone.

I wasn't aware that CP was impacted by the Desoronto blockade but could be mistaken. With civil disobedience like this, especially when solidarity is involved it can become a bit of a 'whack-a-mole'; they can pop up anywhere. Having alternate routes guarantees little.
 

Darwinkgo

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@Darwinkgo you assert that there is no capacity for open access but then assert that the capacity was reduced to meet demand - which sounds like the definition of chutzpah.*

by contrast, the aviation industry exploded in size as the restrictions of regimes like Fifth Freedom were largely replaced by open skies regimes. Airports have had to expand in size and air traffic control systems in complexity. Who is to say that in an open access scenario that shippers couldn’t gain by being able to contract with an operator with capacity rather than the one who owns their branch but is overextended in respect of rolling stock.

* “Chutzpah is when a son kills his mother and father and asks the court at sentencing to show him mercy because he is an orphan.”
Where was capacity cut where it is needed today, besides the lines slated for HFR? Lots of the rail removed served few customers. Commodity flows didn’t support the same lines as before. The needs of supply chains weren’t served well by once a week service anymore.

Demand can grow for certain services just as demand shrinks for other services. It isn’t a universal transform across the network.
 

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