Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

VIA Looks Toward Murky Future

June 2, 2021

VIA Rail Canada released this image of a new Charger locomotive that it recently received.

VIA Rail Canada officials during gave an overview of where things stand with the passenger carrier last week during an online presentation that showed how damaging the COVID-19 pandemic has been.

CEO Cynthia Garneau said VIA also suffered setbacks in early 2020 when First Nation groups and their supporters blockaded tracks used by VIA.

More than 1,000 trains were canceled in February 2020 due to the blockades.

More cancellations followed in the spring as the pandemic took root. Combined this led to ridership falling 77.1 percent even as expenses declined by 21.2 percent.

Garneau said VIA received Ca$135 million (US$112 million) in additional funding to cover the revenue shortfall.

VIA officials said no date has been set for the return of the Ocean service to the Maritime provinces because non-essential travel between provinces continues to be banned.

When the train does return it is expected to have consists of heritage and Renaissance fleet equipment.

Economy class passengers will ride in former Canadian coaches, while Renaissance sleeping, dining and service cars might be augmented with some Chateau-class stainless steel sleepers.

Service to Gaspe, Quebec, remains in limbo but VIA said trains will resume operations once the track is able again to host passenger service.

The Toronto-Vancouver Canadian is now operating once a week and VIA management expects to “fully resume the Canadian when conditions allow it.”

However, the planned  “fleet modernization” of 71 heritage cars used on the Canadian won’t be completed until 2024.

VIA officials said they are studying fleet replacement for the Canadian and other regional trains, but gave no indication as to when that might occur.

In the meantime, VIA will be taking delivery of new equipment being built by Siemens, but that equipment will be used only in corridor service between Quebec City and Windsor via Montreal and Toronto.

The new equipment will be tested later this year and is expected to begin revenue service in 2022.

Although VIA continues to work toward establishing passenger-only routes between Quebec City and Montreal, and between Ottawa and Toronto, it has no timeline for when that project will be realized.

The plan calls for building tracks on abandoned Canadian Pacific right of way that is now a trail in some places. VIA trains could continue to use Canadian National track in Toronto and Montreal.

No funding has been secured for the project and its cost remains undetermined.

In an unrelated move, VIA said this week that ridership and revenue in the first quarter of 2021 were down 80.2 percent and 80.9 percent respectively when compared with the same period in 2020.

Operating expenses were down by 34.1 percent. In a statement, Garneau said VIA “continued to deliver our public service when circumstances allowed it, and to work on and adjust our resumption plan to ensure that we are ready to welcome all our passengers back once the situation improves.

She said VIA remains committed to resuming all routes across the country “once conditions permit us to do so.”

Ontario Rail Service Being Studied

May 27, 2021

The province of Ontario, Ontario Northland, and provincial transit agency Metrolinx are working together to restore rail passenger service to Timmins or Cochrane, Ontario.

Service to those points last operated in 2012. Officials on Tuesday released an initial business case for a proposed 13-stop passenger service.

A more detailed business-case study will be needed to flesh out such details as station locations, integration with Ontario Northland’s bus service, and scheduling matters.

The latter include the number of days service would be offered. The advanced business case is expected to be completed in 2022 with service getting underway by mid-decade.

VIA Annual Report Shows Ridership, Revenue Declines for 2020

May 25, 2021

The 2020 annual report of VIA Rail Canada shows how much the COVID-19 pandemic drove down ridership and revenue.

In 2020 VIA ridership was 1.15 million passenger trips, a 77 percent drop from more than 5 million trips in 2019.

Passenger revenue fell 80 percent to C$76 million from C$388 in 2019. Total revenues were C$92 million, down 77 percent from $411.1 million in 2019.

Service reductions in response to the pandemic triggered a 21.2 percent decline in operating expenses.

The carrier said it laid off 1,000 employees last summer and reduced working hours and salaries of some employees.

The report said most employees have or will eventually return to work while some workers have taken pay cuts. VIA said it plans to bring staff back as it gradually returns to full service.

In looking ahead, VIA said it is planning for a new equipment fleet for the Quebec City-Toronto corridor, a new reservation system, and the renovation of 72 Heritage cars.

Production of new trainsets began last year, VIA selected an onboard Wi-Fi provider and it made progress on the implementation of a computerized maintenance management information system.

Eight economy coach and four business Heritage cars were overhauled last year and partial overhauls were completed on 14 out of 15 P42 locomotives.

VIA said it established a working relationship with the Joint Project Office created by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

It said this has led the carrier to the “precipice of positive news” for a project to build dedicated passenger rail tracks between Québec City and Toronto.

During 2020, VIA said it launched a Universal Accessibility Policy and completed 18 projects under its three-year plan to adhere to the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations, which took effect in June 2020.

VIA Workers Ratify New Contract

May 21, 2021

Members of Unifor Local 100 have ratified a third collective agreement with VIA Rail Canada.

The union represents 700 VIA maintenance workers.

The two-year agreement, which runs from Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021, is similar to other agreements that were previously ratified.

The agreement includes a 2 percent wage increase for 2021, benefits improvements and the review of several work rules.

Brightline Says Orlando Extension Half Done

May 21, 2021

Brightline said it recently passed the halfway mark for construction of its extension to Orlando, Florida.

The company celebrated the milestone during an event held at the future site of a vehicle maintenance facility just south of the Orlando International Airport.

During the event, attendees signed a 12-foot, bright yellow stick of steel rail, which will be incorporated into Brightline’s track between the airport station and the maintenance facility.

Brightline is building a 170-mile extension from West Palm Beach to the airport in a $4.2 billion project.

Regular Brightline service operates between Miami and West Palm Beach although that service has been suspended since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FRA Taps Existing Cascade Route in Oregon

May 10, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration selected the existing Amtrak Cascades route in a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.

The Oregon Department of Transportation said this makes the agency eligible to pursue grants for route improvements between Eugene and Portland on tracks owned by Union Pacific.

ODOT said that work will be conducted within the existing right-of-way and therefore improvements may be “separated into relatively small, lower-cost elements” so the work may be done “incrementally as funding becomes available.”

VIA Accepting Reservations for the Ocean

May 10, 2021

Although no date has been announced for a return to service, VIA Rail Canada has begun accepting reservations travel on the Montreal-Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ocean.

Travel can be booked for trips starting July 2, but VIA cautioned that does not necessarily mean the train will begin operations on that date.

The Ocean has been suspended since March 2020. VIA Rail has cancelled and refunded all reservations for travel on the Ocean up to and including, June 30, 2021.

A VIA spokeswoman said the carrier will continue “to monitor the evolution of the situation and work on a safe resumption plan, which will take into account health and sanitary developments of the different provinces where this long-distance route operates.”

Earlier VIA said its Toronoto-Vancouver Canadian would resume operating the length of its route starting May 17.

Currently the Canadian is operating weekly in western Canada with reduced consists and service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VIA Public Meeting Set for May 27

May 10, 2021

VIA Rail Canada will conduct its annual public meeting on May 27 online.

The meeting can be accessed on VIA’s Facebook page and YouTube channel at 4 p.m. EDT but this year it will be prerecorded.

During the meeting, VIA management will provide performance reports, financial results, and outline projects undertaken last year.

Presenters will include VIA Rail’s board chair, Françoise Bertrand; CEO Cynthia Garneau; and Chief Financial Officer Marie-Claude Cardin.

Canadians are invited to submit questions before the meeting and answers to the most frequently asked questions will provided on May 27 on the public meeting page.

Face Mandate Extended to Sept. 11

May 3, 2021

The requirement that face masks be worn while aboard public transportation has been extended until Sept. 13.

The mandate had been set to expire on May 11 but the Transportation Security Agency said it was extended because the COVID-19 pandemic remains a danger to public health.

“Right now, about half of all adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic,” TSA said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the need for these directives and recognize the significant level of compliance thus far.”

The mandate applies to air and intercity rail travel. Those refusing to comply will be subjected to fines of $250 to $1,500.

Canada Federal Budget Has Funds for VIA Corridor, Infrastructure Projects

April 28, 2021

Canada expects to budget $4.4 million for planning work on VIA Rail Canada’s proposed “high frequency rail” project.

The project seeks to create a passenger-only route for part of the Toronto-Quebec City corridor.

Also in the budget proposal is $491.2 million over six years, beginning in 2021-22, for VIA infrastructure projects that would support the high frequency rail project.

The budget document said $491.2 million would “help reduce bottlenecks, improve fluidity and connectivity, and allow VIA to take an important step toward high-frequency rail in the corridor.”

In an unrelated matter, VIA said that more stringent travel restrictions imposed last week in Ontario and Quebec are not expected to effect the railroad’s scheduled service.

“Passengers are responsible to comply with provincial restrictions,” VIA said in a statement.

Ontario’s new order prohibits non-essential travel into the province while Quebec has closed its borders to travelers from Ontario, where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.