Posts Tagged ‘VIA Rail Canada’

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.”

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.

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.

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.

The Way it Used to Be

April 15, 2021

VIA Rail Canada announced this week that its flag ship long distance train the Canadian, will resume operating next month between Toronto and Vancouver.

The proud Canadian has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and then returned to run only between Vancouver and Winnipeg.

The news that the Canadian will again trek across Canada, though, came with some caveats. There will be no access to lounges and dome cars so scenes such as the one above of the two Canadians passing east of Hornepayne, Ontario, in May 2014.

There will be sleeping car service and passengers will be given reservations to eat breakfast and dinner in the dining car. But lunch will be served in your room.

Furthermore Nos. 1 and 2 will operate just one a week. In short, it won’t be the same experience that people from all over the world come to experience.

But at least it will be have some semblance of transcontinental service and the scenery hasn’t change.

Maybe some day the Canadian will once again be the Canadian.

VIA to Run Canadian Across Canada Again

April 15, 2021

VIA Rail Canada will reinstate the Canadian between Toronto and Vancouver on May 17 with one roundtrip per week.

The train has been operating only between Vancouver and Winnipeg for the past several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first westbound trip from Toronto will depart on May 23.

The Canadian will offer coach and sleeping car accommodations in roomettes and bedrooms. However, no berths will be sold and Prestige Class remains suspended through Sept. 15.

Due to health regulations there will be no access to such common areas as lounge cars and domes.

Sleeping car passenger will be able to make reservations for breakfast and dinner in the diner, but lunch will be served in passenger rooms. Coach passengers will be offered food and beverages from a cart.

VIA said the Montreal-Halifax Ocean continues to be suspended indefinitely. Service between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Jasper will operate weekly without the Touring Class Panorama dome.

Sleepers remain suspended on Winnipeg-Churchill, Manitoba, trains through Sept. 15.

Passengers who had booked trips on trains that have been canceled will receive refunds without financial penalty.

VIA Workers Approve New Contract

March 19, 2021

The 1,600 union workers at VIA Rail Canada have ratified tentative agreements with the passenger carrier reached in January.

The workers belong to Unifor, which reached a two-year agreement with VIA calling for a 2 percent wage increase, benefit improvements, and a review of several work rules.

“We are delighted by the ratification of the collective agreements. Our employees are key contributors to VIA Rail’s success, without whom the fulfillment of our mission to put our passengers first would not be possible,” Martine Rivard, VIA chief employee experience officer, said in a statement.

“I would like to thank Unifor’s representatives and national president, Jerry Dias, as well as the negotiating teams and conciliator. The determination and professionalism of everyone involved led to fair and reasonable agreements despite the unique challenges faced over the last year.”

VIA, Union Reach Tentative Agreement

February 2, 2021

VIA Rail Canada said it has reached a tentative agreement for a two-year contract with Unifor, which represents the carrier’s more than 2,400 workers in stations, maintenance centers, administrative offices and on board trains.

The pact must be approved in a ratification vote of union members.

Unifor and VIA had agreed last March to delay collective bargaining talks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two sides resumed talks in the fourth quarter of last year.

The contract between VIA and Unifor had expired at the end of 2019. The latest agreement would replace that expired pact.