Via Rail blue sky vision, abandoned railway lines

Transport Action Canada is
concerned about the future
of passenger rail services
in Canada. 
PEI government kills co-op bus service, Ideas to improve the Canadian, Via Rail annoncera bientôt les réductions de service, Moncton Transit hub and more news in this week's Transport Action Canada Hotline.

What is a blue sky vision?

Transport Action Canada is concerned about the future of Via Rail. As reported in the Hotline last week the national group is looking for funds, ideas and volunteers to work on a blue sky vision for Via Rail.

"Blue Sky is a very old term that has been around for many, many, many years. Blue Sky plans or visions are great to have. They give you an idea of what you would like given the opportunity. It is also important to prioritize these plans or visions. For example a Blue Sky plan for VIA might include restoring the Atlantic, the Canadian to the CP line and service between Calgary and Edmonton. Of these you might place Calgary - Edmonton as the priority," a post to the 1250-member Canadian Passenger Rail Yahoo Group said.

John Pearce, The problem with VIA Rail service is where it's not

There is no  Via Rail for  many cities close to or well above 100,000 residents such as:  Cape Breton County (100,000), Saint John, Fredericton (75,000), Sherbrooke, Trois Rivieres, North Bay, Thunder Bay, Regina, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Red Deer etc.  By shrinking the constituency served by VIA, the federal government, over decades, has eroded support for national service,"  Transport Action Atlantic's John Pearce wrote on Apr. 28.

Paint the sky blue in Western Canada

Transport Action's John Bakker writes: "In 1990 cities like Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current Medicine Hat, Golden, Revelstoke and Salmon Arm lost passenger rail service. The theory was there is a bus service. However buses did not attract the former passengers. Rocky Mountaineer does provide seasonal service to tourists from Calgary, Banff to Kamloops. In between cities can watch this train go bye but it does not stop. {oliticians and apparently Transport Canada do not understand the difference between the seasonal piint to point tourist train and regular all year passenger rail service. The West got shafted in 1990 with a reduction from 14 trains per week to 3 or 78%. The occupancy of most of these trains were the highest on the VIA system.

"To give a private company a monopoly is hardly a case of the market at work. The Globe and Mail article does not indicate a bidding process. It is just the lobbying of one company who does not want to see anybody else on its territory. Rocky Mountaineer does not provide sleeping car services, so for them to complain that luxury sleepers are unfair competition is a bit rich," Bakker writes. 

"As for the argument that VIA should only serve the corridor, I would suggest that in that case the corridor provinces should subsidize the services. Why should the West contribute? I expect the cosy deal in the works between Transport Canada and Rocky Mountaineer is going to be a give-away of recently refurbished equipment at tax payers expense. One wonders whether Transport Canada proposals are written by Rocky Mountaineer. It will be the next Tory scandal. Nobody in any government calculates the subsidies paid to all modes. Nor is any government interested in coordinating the various forms of public transport. In passenger transportation coordination we are a fourth world country.

Vancouver is part of Canada, Via Rail blue sky

Matthew Buchanan, president of Transport Action British Columbia writes: "VIA is a national organisation and takes money from the whole country, so it shouldn’t solely be a program that only benefits two provinces. In fact, if anything, more of the money should be used in the west where the passenger service is so poor. The third largest city in the country only has service three times a week by VIA Rail. We get better service from Amtrak.

"I have used VIA Rail to go between Kamloops and Vancouver many times in the past two years. At least 12 one way trips, plus a trip for two to Jasper and back, plus a trip from Toronto to Vancouver. This is in spite of the poor three times a week service and the inconvenient departure times. (6am or 11:30pm). I have taken Greyhound too, but it is cramped and unpleasant. Rocky Mountaineer would not help at all as they only travel in summer and during the daytime, not to mention the cost.

"The difference between Rocky Mountaineer and VIA Rail is comparing a cruise ship and a ferry. Nobody would take a cruise ship to get to Vancouver Island or to Newfoundland; the two modes serve completely different purposes. Now there is some overlap between VIA and a cruise train, but the high paying passengers on the Canadian help to subsidise the whole VIA network including the remote services and the corridor trains.

"Transport Action should be advocating for improving VIA service in all parts of the country to better serve regular Canadians.  There is a lot that can be done to improve The Canadian and we should be working towards that," Matthew Buchanan, president of Transport Action British Columbia writes

Some ideas to improve The Canadian

1. Lower the lighting levels in the coaches at night. If you are at the end of the cars the overhead lights are aimed directly at your head.
2. The train does three reversing moves on its trip from Toronto to Vancouver, one in the other direction. This must add 1.5 hours to the total trip time.This is ridiculous.
3. Turn on the VIA station sign in Kamloops at night time so people can find the station! Once when taking the train to Vancouver, I heard someone had to drive all the way to Ashcroft. Does Rocky Mountaineer control the light switch? Most people in Kamloops aren’t even aware we have a train station.
4. Encourage ridership in the west by advertising their service. It isn’t a once in a lifetime trip, but at least twice a year for me.  I only see advertisements on TV for VIA regarding the corridor service.
5. Go back to the earlier faster schedule. It was faster to travel by train in 1955 than it is now.

Via Rail annoncera bientôt les réductions de service découlant du budget fédéral

«Via Rail annoncera d'ici un mois les réductions de service qui découleront des compressions budgétaires récemment décrétées par le gouvernement conservateur. … Sans trop vouloir s'avancer sur les services qui écoperont, le dirigeant a indiqué que ceux pour lesquels la demande est plus faible étaient plus vulnérables. Des employés pourraient aussi perdre leurs postes» Sylvain Larocque a rapporté pour La Presse Canadienne le 2 mai.

PEI government abandons Charlottetown-Summerside shuttle bus service

"The PEI Transportation CO-OP (including representation from Jim Munves of Transport Action) has worked hard to expand PEI transit from the successful Charlottetown system to an intercity route for government workers and students linking the islands two major cities as a prelude to a full island system.  Now it seems money is short, but of course there is still money to expand the highway system including the Trans-Canada near Bonshaw," Transport Action's John Pearce writes.

"The P.E.I. government has cut off funding for the 735 County Line Express, which runs between Charlottetown and Summerside, and that means the service will end in a few weeks. The service is operated by Trius Transit but the subsidy from the government is $18,000 a month. … The shuttle runs back and forth between the two cities four times a day, serving 70 to 80 passengers," CBC News reported on May 3.

Could downtown Moncton become transportation hub? 

"John Pearce, a board member and past president of Transport Action Atlantic, said linking various forms of transportation has proven successful in other cities in Canada.Pearce, who is based in Dartmouth, N.S., said Via Rail and Acadian Lines already share space in Halifax and the same might work in Moncton. "It's very useful (for passengers) to be able to transfer from bus to train and vice versa," Eric Lewis wrote for the Times & Transcript on May. 2. 

"We would very much like to see a joint terminal in Moncton, especially since it's a hub in the Maritimes," (Pearce said). Transport Action Canada, formerly known as Transport 2000, was formed in 1977. Its main objective is the promotion, advancement and development of public transportation," the Times & Transcript reported. 

TPR, Ottawa valley railway plans to be operational by November

"While the tracks on the CPR line up the Upper Ottawa Valley are being pulled up, the group leading the campaign to save the parallel CN rails reports it is optimistic the line will be operational by November," EMC News reported on Apr. 26.

"The not-for-profit Transport Pontiac-Renfrew (TPR) provided a progress report to interested municipalities April 19. … The railway operation will be headed by former Ottawa Central Railway general manager, James Allen. … Business and industry in MRC Pontiac and Renfrew County have stated that in today's post-2008 recession economy, rail is needed as a shipping option. Overall, rail access itself presents a key tool to the economic rejuvenation of the region," EMC reported on Apr. 26.

Canada’s abandoned railway lines given second life by search for cheaper transport

"One hundred and 26 years after Sir John A. Macdonald drove its last spike, Vancouver Island is bringing the E&N Railway back from the dead. …  E&N Railway was purchased by Island Corridor Foundation for $1 in 2006. The tracks soon will be carrying trainloads of rock and gravel for the B.C. construction sector, paper from Vancouver Island mills and coal bound for Asia," Tristin Hopper wrote for the National Post on Apr. 27. 

"Canada is cloaked in abandoned rail. Trains settled the Prairies and united the coasts, but of late, almost every Canadian community is home to at least a few kilometers of abandoned or neglected rail line – that is, if it has not already been ripped up to make way for cycling trails. But increasingly, as booming industries and cash-strapped governments cope with gridlocked highways and skyrocketing transport costs, many are discovering that the cure may be rusting away just over the back fence," the National Post reported.

Airline fees, services, advertising and on-time performance

In testimony to the Senate last month the Public Interest Advocacy Centre outlined basic problems with the way Canadian airlines do business. The industry is constantly changing the terms and conditions of fares. Advertised prices are misleading.  Smaller cities are not well-served the consumer watchdog group said. There is no financial monitoring of the airlines. When an airline goes bankrupt there is no guarantee that pre-paid ticket holders will be reimbursed, Michael Janigan, general counsel of the Public Industry Advocacy Centre, said in his Apr. 3  testimony to the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications.

Via Rail archive needs new home

Eastern Transcontinental Passenger Train Hearings, Summary of Evidence, 
Jan. 1978 60 pages, bilingual
Preferred Plan for Eastern Transcon. Passenger Train Service, 
December 1978  29 pages
Final Plan for Eastern Transcontinental Passenger Train Service, 
Railway Tpt. Ctte  June 1979  14 pages bilingual
Senate of Canada, Interim Report on VIA Rail Passenger Rail Service, 
July 1982.  44 pages
Senate of Canada, Are we on the right track?
Interim Report on VIA, June 1984, 23 pages
Freedom to Move, House of Commons Transport Ctte. various modes, 
Dec. 1985, 65 pages
Transport 2000 submission to the House of Commons Transport Ctte re Planned service reductions for VIA Rail(45% cut) 
October 1989
Federal Liberal task force on VIA Rail (cuts) 
November 1989
First combined CN/CP (colour coded) VIA Rail system timetable 
Oct.31, 1976, several copies
Last Atlantic Regional VIA timetable with regional RDC services
April 30, 1989
Last National VIA timetable before the "Mulroney" Cuts, 
Jan. 15, 1990

For more information please contact Transport Action Canada. 

Transportation and the New Generation 
Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy
Benjamin Davis and Tony Dutzik, Frontier Group
Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
April 2012

Transport Action Canada
Hotline 1164, May 5, 2012
(formerly Transport 2000 / anciennement Transport 2000 Canada)
(613) 594-3290


May 12, Toronto, Moving Forward: A Public Forum about Transportation" co-hosted by Transport Action Ontario

May 23, Vancouver, Transport Action BC 17:45 to 19:45 at the Vancouver Firehall Library at West 10th and Granville. Annual General Meeting will be from 19:00 – 19:15

May 31, Toronto, Mobility pricing conference, Metropolitan Hotel,