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What is the future of VIA Rail?

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Antiloop33rpm

Guest
What is the future of VIA Rail? While this thought has crossed my mind largely because of a small pit of despair I have slipped into because of the recent election, this is by no means a partisan attack on what one party might have in mind, and in fact, I hope we can leave politics out of this discussion.

Many of us on this forum are transit and train fans. We take the train whenever we can and in some cases are advocates for its growth. VIA Rail itself does have a lot of positive aspects to it in its current form it. In the Quebec-Windsor corridor it does provide decent coverage, and overall I would consider it to be a rather cost effective of way of travelling, especially if you are going from city center to city center. The trains themselves are comfortable, and for the most part I have found the staff at VIA to be friendly and helpful. Also I do appreciate the fact that when a train is delayed for more than an hour they usually offer a 50% refund on your next ticket purchase which I think is quite fair. On a national scale we do have rather unique transcontinental train service. While I havent taken the train all the way to Vancouver I know people who have and they have said it is really a fantastic trip. And quite often the Toronto-Vancouver train comes up in travel magazines as one of the top train rides in the world for train enthusiasts. Likewise, the train to Gaspe and Halifax also have seem to be quite enjoyable trips to take.

That being said, there are also a lot of challenges facing VIA Rail in the present time and in the immediate future.

- Privitization. There are many Canadians who want to see this crown corporation out of the taxpayers hands and sold off. In the west there is quite a bit of movement for this to happen. I remember reading an editorial a year ago when a VIA train in Alberta had derailed. The writer, from Edmonton so elequantly pointed out the Canadian flag on the side of car and reminded people that this was 'our tax dollars at work'. This issue last came up in parliment in 2001 and is likely to come up once again in the near future.

- Quebec-Windsor corridor. This is were 85% of all VIA's passenger travel and is the most profitable section of the system. Given this region is also the most populated in Canada, it is one where rail travel actually functions not just as a pleasure trip, but as an important part of the transportation network. And since this region is also growing it means that demand is likely going to increase and despite budget restriction VIA is making attempts to restart service from Toronto to Barrie and Peterborough in the very near future.

- Shared track. VIA largely runs on track owned by CN or CP. On some trains, such as the trains to Halifax or Vancouver, this isnt as important since they are more pleasure trips than anything. But in areas such as the Quebec-Windsor corridor, this becomes a big issue when trying to create schedules and make attempts at expanding and adding routes. It also creates delays when VIA trains are forced to wait and simply for passing freight trains. This often can result in delays of over an hour (on a 2 1/2 hour trip).

- Electrification. I know many probably dont see this as an immediate problem, but I think it is one that is still rather important. Running a system with electric train sets has a lot of benefits. The pollute less. They will become less succeptable to rising gas prices. They are also quieter and have better performance. The noise issue is one that could become a problem if VIA (or commuter rails) want to greatly increase service. One of the arguments that the Weston Community group had with increased train traffic was the noise. With electric train sets, this reduces a lot of those problems and would make it much easier for communities to accept increased, or new traffic.

So what are your thoughts on VIA? What challenges do you see it facing? What solutions do you think are best? Is it simply in need of a slight overhaul, or, something more radical?

Ill offer my take. As much as I like VIA and with the benefits it does have, I find it harder and harder to justify it in its current form. While some might say the root cause is just lack of funding and if we gave it more money it would be better, I really dont believe that too be the case. As far as privitization goes, Im not closed to the idea. Maybe some of the long haul routes would be better run by a private company (with responsibilities to maintain a certain level of service). I think in any case that allowing private companies to operate some routes would not be a bad idea, but Ill get into that more later.

I think the biggest change that needs to happen is that the Quebec-Windsor corridor needs to be operated in an entirely different manner. The first issue is track sharing. So long as VIA has to share tracks and be at the whim of CN or CP, it will never be able to very efficient. The biggest change I would make is that all current routes in this corridor would be operated on newly constructed, passenger only tracks.

This has two benefits. The first is it would allow VIA to operate a much more efficient service. The second would come to cities such as Toronto and Montreal where track upgrades would also greatly benefit commuter rail services, who too also are at the whim of CN and CP in many cases.

What would make the system different is that anyone who wanted to operate a passenger rail service would be allowed to use the tracks. If a Peterborough company decided it wanted to operate a few trains to and from Toronto, it would allowed too, whether it was a private company, or whether it was a local/regional transit company such as GO. The system itself and train management would be operated by a government agency to ensure that safety standards where met for all trains. In this case, VIA could still operate its usual set of trains, but if a private company wanted to operate a luxury class train for business travellers, than it would be allowed too also. The idea is based on the same notion as our road system. The government(s) are responsible for construction and up keep, but any person or business has access too them.

Im really not so much concerned about what happens to VIA, whether it is privatized or ends up split up with an Ontario-Quebec interprovincial system taking over the Quebec-Windsor corridor. Its that whatever system takes its place has a proper passenger rail infrastructure to run on. And while it will be an expensive project, it would have many economic offsets such as construction jobs, new development around new train stations, less congestion in cities as commuter rail will be able to operate on a much more efficient network. It wont happen tommorow, or a few years from now. But maybe in a decade when there has been a shift in public opinion on highways and car usage and more demand is there, I could see this option being one that would be well greeted by the public, and would also provide a better solution to improving rail transit than just throwing government dollars at the current, inefficient system.
 
D

dan e 1980

Guest
- Privitization. There are many Canadians who want to see this crown corporation out of the taxpayers hands and sold off.
i don't know. i can see the airlines buying it up to eliminate competition.
 
E

EnviroTO

Guest
It is hard to know. Nothing has been said about VIA by Harper and obviously with no rail services of any significance outside Ontario and Quebec there isn't much support for it outside Ontario and Quebec. Who knows... a partially privatized VIA with the ability to get bonds and a plan to put high speed rail corridor might even work. If VIA was able to get money as quickly as the GTAA there might be a chance of success. It's too bad David Collenette didn't start a Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton run during the Renaissance because if he had it would probably have more support. I just hope it still exists after the Conservative government. I use it at least two times per year. When I had a client in Detriot I found it more relaxing taking the Toronto-Windsor train and cabbing to Southfield from the Windsor station and far cheaper. I rented a car when I got there to get around of course... there isn't much transit in Detriot (a big understatement).
 
B

Brighter Hell

Guest
how are the european and japanese systems operated? are they government run or private? i know they've partially privatized the UK system and they've had lots of problems with it. i agree that something needs to be done - the train system even in the corridor is a joke. the only place VIA has its own track is between ottawa and montreal. i don't expect anything good out of a conservative government.
 
C

Copper1212

Guest
You know VIA has gradually approved over the past few years. I could see Harper ripping it all away. Now to be fair it was Martin and the Liberals that destroyed VIA in the first place back in the mid-90's but those were completely different circumstances.
 
S

samsonyuen

Guest
This is a really good question that needs to be addressed by more politicians. I agree, in the corridor, and maybe Calgary-Edmonton, this service is necessary, and that it needs to be expanded in the corridor. I don't know how that will come to be though. The track makes sense for alleviating the bottlenecks, and I hope there might be some money thrown VIA's way for that (GO and ATM would benefit too!). HSR is another priority during the Liberals' reign which hasn't been talked about. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening in the next 20 years.

I thought GO was meant to be operating between Toronto and Barrie again, not VIA?
 
R

rbtaylor

Guest
i don't know. i can see the airlines buying it up to eliminate competition.
I'm waiting for Air Canada to replace flights between Toronto and Montreal with a 2 hour rail trip from Pearson (brief stop at Union) to Dorval as a way to completely eliminate WestJet and other flights in that corridor. They could do this either by themselves, as a partnership with Via, or as a partnership with CN / CP.

Put Air Canada, VIA and West Jet traffic in that corridor together and you can run a 150 person train (2 car via) every 30 minutes or better.

If problems in the corridor develop they can fall back to flights.
 
A

Antiloop33rpm

Guest
Brighter Hell: I believe there are many places in Asia that operate fully private systems. I know wyliespoon has spent a lot of time on rail systems there so maybe he can offer some insight. As for Europe, the UK privitization has turned into a bit of a disaster. But many other countries such as Holland are now opting for a model that includes privatized rail service and have had some success. I think it depends on the model adopted since many cases are successful.

Cooper: Im curious as too what you think made circumstances different when the Liberals began to dismantle VIA as opposed to now? Are you reffering to political issues, or more social issues surrounding rising energy and changing lifestyles?

Samsonyuen: I have seen various reports which put either VIA or GO in charge of operating between Barrie and Toronto (the same with a Toronto-Peterborough line). The last system I heard mention the idea was VIA so that was the assumption I made this week, but ultimately it could be either VIA or GO. As a note VIA and GO have been working closer together on routes that may also serve commuter functions to maxmize use of track time and equipment. Ultimately who operates such a line could just be a simple issue as who has a train set available.

In regards to what may happen to VIA under a Conservative government. I really dont see it being much different than a Liberal government actually. The Liberals where never very keen on VIA and although they never said as a party it should be privatized, there were many reports issued during their time in office which pointed in that direction and the idea was never discounted, only ignored. Its not that I think privatization is inevitable, but just a strong possibility. And given that any changes made to passenger rail in the corridor are going to have to be very substantial, I am not opposed to discussing the idea and exploring various ways a better passenger system could be constructed and run.
 
G

ganjavih

Guest
If privatisation means making some progress, then bring it on.
 
W

wyliepoon

Guest
I know wyliespoon has spent a lot of time on rail systems there so maybe he can offer some insight.
I actually know very little, and my area of "expertise" (if you can call me an expert at all) is with Hong Kong railways, which is nothing more than a subway and commuter rail system.

If you're looking at privatization, then Japan Rail might be a model. It used to be one national rail corporation, but is now divided into seven companies by regions of the country, all serving commuter, intercity, and in most cases, Shinkansen "bullet trains".

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Railways


Map showing regions served by each JR company


Yamanote Line train. The Yamanote line is the belt line of Tokyo, operated by JR East. It's one of the busiest commuter rail lines in the world.


Shinkansen "bullet train"
 
C

Copper1212

Guest
"Cooper: Im curious as too what you think made circumstances different when the Liberals began to dismantle VIA as opposed to now? Are you reffering to political issues, or more social issues surrounding rising energy and changing lifestyles?"


Well the financial outlook at the time was much different than it is now. VIA was dismantled by the Liberals simply because Canada was running up huge deficits and needed to slash services, VIA was a prime candidate for this. The financial picture in Canada is much different currently, now is the time to be reinvesting in services like VIA rather than cutting.
 
G

green22

Guest
End of rail service?
Conservative would prefer the only intercity train travel in Canada be privately-run, luxury trains
Jan. 19, 2006. 01:00 AM



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Decision 2006


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As someone who regularly travels by train for business and pleasure, I am deeply concerned that a vote for the Conservatives will mean the end of subsidized passenger rail service in Canada.

Jim Gouk is the Conservatives' transport critic and in 2004 he introduced a private member's bill to privatize VIA Rail Canada. He stated: "If the government is serious about cutting wasteful programs, (VIA) would be a great place for it to start."

Gouk would prefer that the only intercity train travel to remain in Canada would be privately-run luxury trains like the Rocky Mountaineer, which, unfortunately, don't allow passengers to get on or off en route — rather defeating the purpose of having a train service to begin with.

A case in point are the current options facing rail travellers through the Rockies. Two people can take VIA from Edmonton to Vancouver for as little as $100 each, or two people can take the Rocky Mountaineer from Calgary to Vancouver for as little as $1,249 each.

Which service has the potential to benefit more Canadians?

If Gouk is representative of the Conservatives' attitude toward train travel, it typically ignores the needs of the average Canadian. The train is still the lifeline for hundreds of communities across Canada. Intercity train service in Canada should be expanded, not cut. Many communities in the Maritimes, northern Ontario and Saskatchewan have been without train service for 16 years and others are making do on an inconvenient three-day-a-week service.

But since the Conservatives' own policy document released last year called for the expansion of the Trans-Canada Highway to four lanes in northern Ontario, I guess it is no surprise that rail service, and the environment, are simply not Stephen Harper's concern.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jason Shron, President,

Rapido Trains Inc., Concord


To be fair, the Liberals already privatized CN, and the party is lead by a former owner of a bus company (Voyageur/CSL) and boats (CSL). These modes have been the natural competition to rail, bus company managers have been vocal in asking government to stop subsidizing rail travel (highway subsidization is welcome however). Some may say that Martin has no connection to the company since he sold his interest to his 3 sons.

It was revealed as of a couple years ago that $165 million in government contracts had gone to CSL. Martin, when asked had thought it was it was somewhere around $100,000. But who can expect a finance minister, whose family is the chief stakeholder in CSL (as well as its recent head manager) to keep track of these details. Just as, I'm sure it must have come as a shock to Cheney that his company, Haliburton, was awarded no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq. Chretien's transport minister may have been friendly towards rail transit, but LaPierre and Martin are not.
 
R

rbtaylor

Guest
It was revealed as of a couple years ago that $165 million in government contracts had gone to CSL. Martin, when asked had thought it was it was somewhere around $100,000.
Martin should be smart enough to ignore questions like these for the simple reason that he isn't supposed to know the answer. Knowing the answer means he is still involved with the company, which would be a conflict of interest.

$165M across a number of contracts over a number of years would never kick off a red flag with his staff as we're getting down to very small percentages of the overall budget.
 
D

dan e 1980

Guest
End of rail service?
Conservative would prefer the only intercity train travel in Canada be privately-run, luxury trains
holy crap!

green, where did that article come from?

does this mean that the conservatives would support a project like blue 22?
 
W

wyliepoon

Guest
If blue22 will be a line with "privately-run, luxury trains", perhaps it will be a Transrapid maglev line from downtown to the airport, just like in Shanghai...



:)
 

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