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.