Letter to the Editor. Via Rail Bosses Not Up to the Job

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With Greyhound set to end bus service from Sudbury to the west coast of BC, there is now an opening for VIA Rail to deliver needed public transportation and expand passenger rail markets in Northern Ontario. However, the Montreal-based bosses at the Crown corporation are not up to that job.

Greyhound runs will disappear by November, so places like Thunder Bay are now calling for VIA passenger rail to return to communities along the CP Rail line. VIA Rail’s response?  A refusal to speak to the CBC about the issue and a statement that they will not be increasing services. What an incredibly disrespectful reply to give to isolated Northern municipalities and First Nations, whose residents may now need to take unnecessary travel risks.

VIA is mandated to provide accessible intercity and remote passenger rail services to Canadians – this is what we pay taxes for and what Transport Canada subsidizes. Transport Minister Marc Garneau loves to brag about how he takes VIA Rail from Montreal to Ottawa for Parliament. However, it seems only his rail travel is essential and not that of a student or senior trying to make it across the Canadian Shield in winter for school or a medical appointment.

Sadly, I don’t think current VIA Rail management could actually deliver effective rail service in Northern Ontario. VIA staff and railroaders themselves are professional – I’ve met many –  but they’re handcuffed by a leadership team that makes bad access deals with freight railroads resulting in criminally-late trains. The transcontinental VIA train that travels from Toronto to Vancouver, on the CN Rail line 3 hours north of Thunder Bay, has been 30 to 45 hours late this year.

VIA Rail must devolve relevant operations from Montreal to create a Northern Ontario-based regional hub that is accountable to Northern citizens and our travel needs. The expertise is here, the need is evident and the fact that VIA’s board and management cannot see that is further proof they are not up to the task. This taxpayer and rail advocate is done asking VIA to lead – their job now (and Garneau’s) is to simply meet our requests.

Chad Beharriell – Iron Bridge, ON.

9 COMMENTS

  1. VIA Rail work under the framework created by the federal government, that framework handicaps VIA is many parts of its operation including the contracts to run on the CN or CP network. There is little VIA Rail management can do about the problems of its trains unless the government changes things.

    As for the issue at hand, if a bus service (which is relatively cheap to run, and much cheaper than a train) can’t make a go of it then any replacement train would require significant additional subsidies from the government. Thus the decision is out of VIA’s hands.

    While the scenery may be the best in the world, that won’t pay the bills. Anyone interested can go to VIA Rail’s website and look at their financial statements – The Canadian requires significant subsidies despite being an “international tourist magnet”.

    • I agree with your point, John, about a lack of political will at the federal level to improve passenger rail in Northern Ontario. I personally contacted Transport Canada to suggest that they leverage some of the promised national infrastructure spending to create additional/longer sidings along CN and CP tracks, so as to allow freight and VIA trains to pass each other easier. Unfortunately, I received a dismissive response to that idea, which said VIA was a Crown corporation separate from that of Transport Canada (which is not completely true, given that TC subsidizes VIA and the Minister of Transport appoints members of VIA’s board and directs policy).

      In terms of costs, passenger rail on the CP line from Sudbury thru Thunder Bay and onto Winnipeg would not need to initially need run daily, as the Greyhound buses have. Train sets do not have to be the massive length of the summer Canadian train, and schedules could be experimented with to maximize ridership. As well, there is already an existing base of service (Sudbury to White River) to expand upon.

      Where VIA management is failing is that they ARE NOT EVEN TRYING such ideas. VIA’s leadership is missing a real opportunity with the new(er) CEO of CP Rail, Keith Creel, who appears to have brought a much more conciliatory approach to that company. Again, failure to work out a deal on what almost every rail observer believes to be a viable (and needed) route along Lake Superior is a reflection of management.

      So, why not devolve that decision-making power (and resources) to a Northern Ontario hub and let us lead it? We have a vested interest in making it work and we owe it to at-risk members of remote communities and First Nations to try. Beyond that, we can grow a service that attracts others from around the world for the scenery and route. There is a win-win here that unfortunately, many in the cozy VIA offices of Montreal do not get.

  2. The railways do not want passenger service on their lines, and they will do anything to discourage them and the public. The governments do not care, they are only worried about being reelected from the bigger areas of people, Toronto, Montreal, etc. The Maritimes do not have big population centers, so there service is like crap.
    The Gaspe line is not being used Via, but the Quebec Gov’t is funding some of the rebuilting process. The Hudson Bay section is the same.

    But airports and airlines are doing well. Ask politicians how they travel, AIR.
    Thanks
    Retired Locomotive Engineer

  3. They could care less about northern Ontario, just like our local passenger train that will likely never return. If these companies can’t make a fortune then it’s not even an option.

      • Good to see a discussion emerging from the letter I submitted.

        In answer to your comment about passenger demand, Mr. Brason, the demographics & market favor a return of VIA service to the CP line between Sudbury-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg. The population of Sudbury (downtown) is 85K, Thunder Bay is 107K, and additionally there are numerous communities along that line such as Chapleau as well as a multitude of First Nations between Sudbury and Winnipeg. Add to that the appeal of the scenery of the Lake Superior/lake shore route, and you tap into a larger (and international) market.

        The demand (and rationale) for returning VIA services to the CP route thru Northern Ontario has existed for years and pre-dates the situation created by the Greyhound cancellations. The current VIA CEO, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, knows this and has had almost a half-decade in his position to make that happen – he hasn’t and thus, in my view, he is, like the current board, not “up to the job” at hand.

    • It ran into the very early 70’s to my recollection as I remember a collision at Black R. around 1971 but that and who ran it is of little consequence when we look at all the facts that led to it’s being shut down.
      People from Dubreuilville were echoing many of the same sentiments in a letter when a group figured the ACR could figure prominently as a viable means of travel to the Sault for residents, citing the travel time alone was probative, let alone the fare.

  4. History shows how they tried to keep passenger service alive between Sudbury and the Sault with a ‘Bud’ car but lack of passengers due to fares and just way too long a ride caused it’s demise.

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