Letter: Canada- wide Via train at risk

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The value of your $10 bill is at risk and it has nothing to do with exchange rates. It is what is represented on that note that is under attack – the transcontinental train The Canadian. A combination of corporate forces and weak government endangers the legacy and future of that VIA Rail train.

A recent government report on transportation, led by former MP David Emerson of BC, states that federal support for VIA’s The Canadian should end. Their logic is that the train, which runs from Toronto to Vancouver, competes with the BC-based Rocky Mountaineer tourism train and has an unfair advantage by receiving federal monies.

This reasoning is very flawed. While some tourists may use The Canadian, that is not the only group served. Residents and taxpayers living in regions of Canada in which there is no other form of affordable transit use the train regularly. I use the train myself to journey from my hometown in northern Ontario. Trains are the safest form of travel in all seasons, but especially in winter.

Importantly, the Rocky Mountaineer neither reaches beyond BC and Alberta nor offers any local non-excursion train service. To increase sales to a global elite, they are willing to sacrifice the basic travel needs of working class Canadians across the country.

Immediate steps can be taken to increase use of The Canadian and further decrease federal subsidies. The Liberal government can pass legislation to give passenger rail priority over freight trains whenever meeting. Doing so would reduce delays and increase ridership. PM Trudeau and Minister of Transport Garneau voted for such a bill in 2015, which was defeated by the then-ruling Conservatives.

If the Liberals truly back trains as environmentally-friendly and safe transport, their support for such a bill should not have changed, right? At the very least, such legislation should immediately apply to transcontinental train travel and The Canadian. People should take precedence over plastic and petroleum. In the late 1950s, you could travel by train from Montreal to Vancouver in less than three days.

Also, VIA’s leadership can be more forceful about rail priority. Unbelievably, VIA staff are not allowed to tell passengers which freight railroads are making them late. We wouldn’t want to embarrass the corporations and hurt their stock price, would we?

Canada became a nation because of the transcontinental railroad. Those tracks were not built, at the cost of lives and tax dollars, just for private freight companies or packaged tourist trains – they are for all citizens. If you support passenger rail across this country, let your MPs know.

Chad Beharriell
Iron Bridge, ON

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent, cogent perspective by Mr. Beharriell. Indeed, if you can succeed in pushing aside the self-serving lobbyists working against the public interest by deceptively hiding the facts how all modes of transportation are subsidized by taxes; that the infrastructure of highways and airways are both publicly funded for construction and maintenance, than Ottawa can understand what has (unfairly) impacted VIA’s “The Canadian.” As this train, so well maintained by VIA, is rated one of the top five trains in the world today, the revenue issue can be easily identified:

    1) Operating a schedule only twice per week during most of the year, except three times per week during summer, is frankly not conducive for any traveler to plan or depend upon this schedule–local or tourist. As well, adding a fourth night to travel to compensate for the excessive delays caused by freight traffic over the CN-owned tracks did not ameliorate the situation. Indeed, now connections are broken at Winnipeg to Hudson Bay and Jasper to Prince Rupert.

    2) The diminished non-daily schedule, which frankly does not reduce as much costs as one would think e.g., depots, is directly correlated to the inadequate route foisted upon “The Canadian.” This occurred in 1990, when Ottawa tolerated a backroom deal chaired by CP and its close relations to the ownership of the impending Rocky Mountaineer. VIA was relieved of the daytime Rocky Mountain service it had originated, enabling Rocky Mountaineer to step in on an exclusive basis using CP from Vancouver-Calgary. Most importantly, “The Canadian” was forced off the CP to the CN line. This is your key reason for the revenue issues that triggered a reduction in schedules: “The Canadian” was removed from serving the more populated southerly CP line from Toronto-Vancouver thru Thunder Bay, Calgary; the more scenic and tourist-oriented route thru Banff and Lake Louise. The northerly route is sparsely populated and only serves Jasper.

    Rather than killing a popular mode of transport that reflects so highly upon Canada, PM Trudeau should understand the cause for this issue and require Ottawa and the CP to take corrective action. Frankly, for the “private” Rocky Mountaineer group to express any disdain for the government’s support of its last transcontinental train service is pathetic; it would be like America’s Boeing taking a position when Congress debated killing the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which serves to finance most of the airplane sales to customers of Boeing.

    The public needs to be relieved of such self-serving interests as seen through such rose tinted glasses of Rocky Mountaineer, as there would be sufficient interest in both train services to allow for meaningful competition to better serve the Rockies.

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