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VIA Rail

Urban Sky

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So if i understand this right the train running more often had better revenues and cost recovery? So it would actually make sense for it to run more often, which allows more people to take it. Also taking into consideration that Greyhound is now gone, and air travel is a mess, people may be more option to other options?
I’m afraid that my figures rather show the opposite (if you refer to the additional paragraph I added under the table after I prematurely posted my reply), but to simply quote myself in said post on SSP:
Now, if your theory that revenues decrease faster than costs when cutting frequencies on non-Corridor routes was correct, the direct operating loss per train-km should have increased since 1990 (when frequencies were cut from daily service to 3 trains per week) and the cost-recovery rate (i.e. direct revenues divided by direct costs) should have decreased.

So what happens when we compare the figures from 1988 with those of 2018? On the Ocean, the direct operating loss per train-km decreased (rather than: increased) by 1.1%, whereas the cost-recovery rate improved (rather than: deteriorated) from 40.8% to 48.9%. On the Canadian, the direct operating loss per train-km even decreased dramatically (by 77.2%), whereas the cost-recovery rate almost doubled (from 48.3% to 90.3%).
 

roger1818

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What if that investment could lead to the train running 7x per week in each direction?

AFAIK, it isn't the rail infrastructure that is preventing the Canadian from running 7x per week. VIA could do anything if given enough government funding. Once again the question becomes, are there better things we could do with that money?
 

roger1818

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This question seems especially pertinent on the Ocean, where passenger revenues barely exceed $10 million, even in a good year (like 2018, see table further below)…


As it happens (or as railfans keep bringing up the same topics), I’ve compared last week on a different forum the variable costs and revenues of the Ocean and Canadian in 1988 (when both still operated daily) and in 2018 (when both operated only 3 times per week, or in the case of the Canadian during winter even: only twice per week):

KQdtJnA.png

Cross-post from: SkyscraperPage
Compiled from: Office of the Prime Minister (1989, pp. 67+70 in the PDF), VIA Rail's Corporate Plan 2019-2023 (p.21) and VIA Rail's Annual Report 2018 (p.9)

As you can see above, the subsidy need for the Canadian (in 2018 prices) decreased by 77% per train-km and by 53% per passenger. Even though the respective figures for the Ocean were neutral (1.1% decrease) per train-km or a strong increase (+59%) per passenger, it doesn’t exactly support the theory cherished by many rail enthusiasts in this country that daily rather than less-than-daily trains would save rather than cost the taxpayer money…

I assume the first 2018 column is the 1988 figures compensated for inflation and the second 2018 column is the real 2018 data?
 

Urban Sky

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I’m I assume the first 2018 column is the 1988 figures compensated for inflation and the second 2018 column is the real 2018 data?
Should have made it clearer, but that’s exactly the case. Had the annual subsidy levels of both trains remained unchanged and only risen by inflation, they would have cost the taxpayer $111 million by 2018. Instead, the burden to the taxpayer decreased by 84% (to just under $18 million), whereas the train-mileage only decreased by 64%…
 

Northern Light

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Here is an excellent resource from Amtrak which highlight's the discussion points above but at another level of scale, across more routes, which helps, I think, reinforce the points being made above:


From the above:

1656963649983.png

1656963695306.png


Here, we clearly see that 'Long Distance' services are a severe drag on the bottom line.

***

Now they also show something else..........but its important to read it correctly.

They show that their 'Corridor' service is actually profitable; and, indeed, that is in part due to the frequency of service, which drives high levels of passenger traffic.

But as @Urban Sky has so often pointed out, it also has a great deal to do with serving more than one large market, and being able to do so with comparatively short (non-overnight) trip times.

Bringing this back to Canada, it helps bolster the case for investing in our 'Corridor'.....and might make the case for a comparable investment in the Edmonton-Calgary space in the west.

The problem, thereafter, is that there are relatively few places in Canada where additional service could be delivered cost-effectively. The exceptions might be for short, tourist-focused services such as Calgary-Banff; and perhaps, in the future,
a Toronto-Wasaga-Collingwood type run, as well as services such as Niagara, (were GO not serving this already); and might also make the case (if we could sort out customs) for a Toronto-Buffalo service.

But it doesn't show an economic case (from the rail operator point-of-view) for greater frequencies on long-distance runs. There may be a case to made there in terms of economic development or public service, but that merits
a subsidy arrangement from government rather than more service paid out of VIA's existing budget.
 

kEiThZ

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I always wonder if the problem with routes like the Ocean is that they perform the regional rail function poorly. The Maritimes don't need some thrice weekly train from Montreal to Halifax. What they could really use is a thrice daily train from Saint John to Halifax via Moncton. I suspect the cost recovery on such a service would be better than the Ocean.
 

lenaitch

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In terms of something like the Canadian, for a train that runs three days a week CN should be able to accomodate it without much impact on their operations. The question is why should they?

What the Government and VIA could do is work together to find a better solution. It's partially CN's fault for running so many trains too large to fit in their own sidings to make a profit. Not enough investment in their own infrastructure.

When I took the Canadian from Edmonton to Banff it took 5 hours for it to get into the yard and run around to the station. Stupid things like this could be fixed to help the trains on time performance. 5 hours is not much on a 4 day journey but it's just one example.
CN is profitable. I suppose if they felt running shorter trains, building longer sidings or any other infrastructure improvement would improve their balance sheet they would already be doing it. The fact that train or siding lengths impact on VIA operations is not their concern so long as they are meeting their contract obligations (whatever they are).
 

lenaitch

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I always wonder if the problem with routes like the Ocean is that they perform the regional rail function poorly. The Maritimes don't need some thrice weekly train from Montreal to Halifax. What they could really use is a thrice daily train from Saint John to Halifax via Moncton. I suspect the cost recovery on such a service would be better than the Ocean.
Agree. Getting between the population centres in the Maritimes on public transportation doesn't look easy. There is one bus connection per day between Saint John and Halifax (via Moncton) and it takes over seven hours. No doubt there is a tourism component to the Ocean but I doubt it serves the residents all that well, particularly after the Bras d"Or was cancelled and Gaspe suspended.
 

kEiThZ

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I doubt it serves the residents all that well, particularly after the Bras d"Or was cancelled and Gaspe suspended.

All of Cape Breton has a population of little over 132k and is 4 hrs from Halifax. The Gaspe is about 140k and 5-7 hrs from everywhere. These places are not adding significant ridership. At some point, we gotta get over the romantic notion of small far away centres being significant trip generators. Those places should be served by buses. Not trains. But tying Saint John, Moncton and Halifax (including the airport) would actually have a reasonable case for regular service.
 

C_Johnson_1995

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All of Cape Breton has a population of little over 132k and is 4 hrs from Halifax. The Gaspe is about 140k and 5-7 hrs from everywhere. These places are not adding significant ridership. At some point, we gotta get over the romantic notion of small far away centres being significant trip generators. Those places should be served by buses. Not trains. But tying Saint John, Moncton and Halifax (including the airport) would actually have a reasonable case for regular service.
This is the uncomfortable truth for transit advocacy. Most of the trains people want restored are better as busses.

The parts of the VIA network that disappeared, for the most part didn't do so without good reason.

I also believe this to be true about the Northlander but despite all the same reasoning holding true for that example, it remains a spectacularly unpopular position.
 
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lenaitch

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All of Cape Breton has a population of little over 132k and is 4 hrs from Halifax. The Gaspe is about 140k and 5-7 hrs from everywhere. These places are not adding significant ridership. At some point, we gotta get over the romantic notion of small far away centres being significant trip generators. Those places should be served by buses. Not trains. But tying Saint John, Moncton and Halifax (including the airport) would actually have a reasonable case for regular service.
Perhaps it was my imperfect phraseology - I admit to being imperfect - but I intended my last sentence to be read in its entirety:

"No doubt there is a tourism component to the Ocean but I doubt it serves the residents all that well, particularly after the Bras d"Or was cancelled and Gaspe suspended."

That the tourism component of the Ocean, whatever that may be but I'm not sure it is significant to the Maritimes, has likely been diminished by those two other passenger routes, which had a large tourism component and connected to the Ocean.
 

kalis0490

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I have a theory that one of the reasons that never had the right footing is thata lot of initial routes were in less densely populated parts of Atlantic Canada, rather than adding commuter like service in southern Ontario, ex why weren't Toronto-London-St thomas or Hamilton-St Catherine-Welland "VIA" Routes while Saguenay , Sydney were VIA routes? Many of the routes in Southern ontario that VIA did abandon ex Barrie are very popular right now.
 

Urban Sky

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I have a theory that one of the reasons that never had the right footing is thata lot of initial routes were in less densely populated parts of Atlantic Canada, rather than adding commuter like service in southern Ontario, ex why weren't Toronto-London-St thomas or Hamilton-St Catherine-Welland "VIA" Routes while Saguenay , Sydney were VIA routes? Many of the routes in Southern ontario that VIA did abandon ex Barrie are very popular right now.
VIA's initial network was identical with what it inherited from CN and CP in 1976. If you are missing any route in its October 1976 timetable, you should ask when and why CN or CP abandoned these routes. If you wonder why VIA didn't reinstate these services, that was never within its mandate (neither was "adding commuter like service").

As for London-St.Thomas, that service was provided by the London & Port Stanley Railway and ceased around 1957:
1656989645755.png

Source: CN timetable effective 1950/04/30

As for Toronto-Welland-Buffalo, I refer to the discussion we had on page 495 (tldr: the service became redundant when Amtrak and VIA introduced their cross-border "Maple Leaf" service in 1981).

As for "Many of the routes in Southern ontario that VIA did abandon ex Barrie are very popular right now", have a look at the VIA 1976/10/31 timetable and let me know which services you are talking about...

I previously provided an overview over the Corridor routes which were cut by VIA and as you can see, only two were operating within Ontario:
Never let facts get in the way of a compelling story, but there are at least 8 abandoned routes in the Quebec-Windsor Corridor which still existed when VIA took over operations from CN and CP, as testified by VIA's October 1976 schedule:

RouteService in October 1976 (frequencies per week)
Quebec - Trois-Rivières - Montreal20
Quebec - Victoriaville - Richmond5
Coaticook - Sherbrooke - Richmond - Montreal7 (Coaticook - Sherbrooke: 1)
Sherbrooke - Farnham - Montreal7 (Farnham - Montreal: 12)
Montreal - Rigaud - Ottawa7
Montreal - Montebello - Ottawa7 (westbound: 8)
Havelock - Peterborough - Toronto7
Toronto - Welland - Buffalo7

Furthermore, these routes have lost at least half their scheduled service since 1976:
RouteService in October 1976 (freq/week)Service in 2019 (freq/week)
Toronto - Niagara Falls217
Toronto - Kitchener - London34 (Stratford - London: 27)14
Toronto - Brantford - London6433*
(Toronto -) London - Sarnia287
* Not exactly a reduction by one half, but a decrease by 48% nonetheless...
 
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DirectionNorth

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Perhaps it was my imperfect phraseology - I admit to being imperfect - but I intended my last sentence to be read in its entirety:



That the tourism component of the Ocean, whatever that may be but I'm not sure it is significant to the Maritimes, has likely been diminished by those two other passenger routes, which had a large tourism component and connected to the Ocean.
I can't imagine (I seem to be using that phrase a lot these days) lots of people transferring from the Ocean to the former Gaspe and Bras D'Or services. The former Gaspe services, if I remember correctly, ran directly into Montreal. I think that most passengers would embark there, instead of waiting a day for a transfer in Middle of Nowhere, QC. Abysmally low service levels mean that most people were probably not transferring to the Bras D'Or (though maybe someone more knowledgeable could chime in on that).

As for services in general, for intercity rail, I would say that more intensive short-distance routes are more successful (because they can generate more habitual users) than long-distance routes. Moncton/St. John to Halifax has always been the one more proposed, and I think that this kind of service would be a good third option for intercity rail in the country, after the Corridor and E-C.
 

crs1026

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Those who say “surely CN/CP can fit one or two trains per day on their busy freight lines” have a very outdated or unrealistic view of the current freight infrastructure.

The problem in a nutshell is how to overtake a slower freight train. Meeting opposing trains is relatively benign.

Even on a double-tracked line such as the Kingston Sub, there is clearly a limit to how much overtaking can happen. On single track, the limits are magnified. The amount of investment needed to solve overtaking between Vancouver and Halifax is gigantic - easily $200M or more in added sidings and double track. All of which then has an incremental operating cost. In aggregate, it’s as if we are building a new railway line 100 miles or more in length…… for only one or two passenger trains per day.

One has to appreciate also that the passenger load on a long distance passenger train is roughly in the range of a single Q400 or B737. Does it make sense to spend that money just for one planeload of capacity? Any difference in carbon and fuel expenditure is trivial in the grand scheme of things.

While I fault CN and CP for dragging their feet at lengthening sidings even sufficiently to operate long freights efficiently, I can’t fault a strategy of trying to run “the hard way” and then only investing the bare minimum to bring capacity up to the required level. That’s a very businesslike way to manage capital. CN in particular has acknowledged that it undershot its capacity, and has clearly made improvements, and is making more. Even with that course correction, the overtaking challenge will never go away. There is no business case for government to invest to achieve it.

I can justify investing in a Maritime network because a) the job creation value to the Maritimes is as good as any other infrastructure project down that way and b) on a buikd-it-and-they-will-come premise, it could be a stimulus to development and tourism and c) those freight lines have much more capacity available, and a “mixed” freight/passenger operation could be viable for several decades. The prairies are a different - only Alberta has the combination of population and moderate distance (allowing the overtaking problem to be solved economically) to make an investment possible. While Edmonton- Calgary-Banff gets all the attention as potentially running close to break even, I would argue that even that investment ought to include mixed operations to Lethbridge and Prince Albert to improve the ridership catchment area and value delivered for any subsidy.

I just stepped off #2 on Canada Day. Ridership was good, service was great, and passenger experience was consistently positive. Nobody minded the slow pace, and (compared to past trips) the assurance of on time arrival removed anxiety compared to a faster schedule that wasn’t being met. So it still works for liesure travel, although the equipment probably only has a few years of life remaining. I would love to see VIA run more times per week, but its equipment utilization is likely maxxed out, and there are still empty berths on the existing trains.

We were two hours ahead of schedule at Brechin…. but running third in a fleet of four southbound trains that encountered a fleet of three freight trains coming north. Even with double track down from Settler, we crawled to Doncaster. I can’t see an investment strategy that would prevent that kind of impediment to VIA..

So, all in all, we need to exorcise any memory of what rail transportation was in the past from our thinking and build for the future, not to recreate the past. There’s enough nostalgia to go around.

- Paul
 
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