VIA celebrating 40th birthday…but it hasn’t been a roadbed of roses

 

Several images of VIA Rail trains, along with a colourful banner marking 40 years of VIA Rail
In 2018 Canada’s national passenger rail service is marking the 40th anniversary of its creation. Some critics will ask if there’s really anything to celebrate after decades of retrenchment and cutbacks, but optimists think there just might be a headlight at the end of the tunnel. 

[Originally published in the Spring-Summer 2018 edition of “The Bulletin”]

On April 1, 1978, a Government of Canada order in council created a new Crown corporation. VIA Rail Canada had been established as a subsidiary of Canadian National Railways (then also publicly-owned) the previous year, but now attained new status as a parent corporation under the Financial Administration Act.  It was the next step in a government initiative to control the cost of supporting passenger rail across Canada, with a primary objective of addressing duplication of services. The intent was for the new corporation to assume full responsibility for the passenger trains operated at that time by CN and CP Rail.  It turned out to be a phased-in process, with the first step being consolidation of marketing. Eventually VIA absorbed other managerial responsibilities, first from CN and later from CP. The new corporation took ownership of passenger rolling stock as well, including locomotives, and train crews eventually became VIA employees.

This year, VIA is holding a celebration to mark the anniversary.  And there actually is a little bit of positive icing to decorate the birthday cake – the first in a long time.  This year’s federal budget included a major commitment to replace the entire VIA fleet in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, with particular emphasis on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa triangle. It’s the first significant investment by any government in new passenger rail equipment since the earliest days of the corporation’s history.  For the most part, it’s been a long, sad tale of neglect and retrenchment.

While we don’t mean to rain on VIA’s birthday parade, it is significant to note just how much passenger rail in Canada has deteriorated over the past four decades.  This country’s struggling network now ranks dead last among the G7 nations – even well behind the United States, which hasn’t exactly done a stellar job in keeping up with the rest of the industrialized world either. Continue reading “VIA celebrating 40th birthday…but it hasn’t been a roadbed of roses”

Spring-Summer Bulletin now available

“VIA Rail at 40: The good, the bad, and the ugly” – our feature coverage on VIA’s 40th anniversary is just one of many topics featured in this issue of The Bulletin

The Spring-Summer 2018 issue of The Bulletin, Transport Action Atlantic’s twice annual publication, is now available online. This issue’s feature coverage is VIA Rail’s 40th anniversary, a look at where the national passenger railway has ended up after four decades of service, and what the future might have in store. This issue also features additional rail news and commentary, updates on TAA’s advocacy work, marine and air news, transit and intercity bus updates, and much more!

Read on, here: Spring-Summer 2018 Bulletin

Remember, TAA members receive a hard copy of each Bulletin by mail and have the chance to read each issue before anyone else. You can read more about the benefits of membership, and even join today, here: Membership

Transit advocate wins 2018 John Pearce Award

Michael Perry presents the 2018 John Pearce Award to Stan Choptiany.
South West New Brunswick Transit Authority chair Stan Choptiany of St. Andrews NB (at right) receives the 2018 John Pearce Award from Michael Perry, a long-time member of Transport Action Atlantic’s board of directors. This year’s outstanding public transportation advocacy award recognizes Mr. Choptiany’s leadership in returning daily bus service to rural Charlotte County.

The chair of the South West New Brunswick Transit Authority is the 2018 winner of Transport Action Atlantic’s John Pearce Award, recognizing outstanding contribution to public transportation advocacy in the region.  Stan Choptiany was honoured at TAA’s annual general meeting, held in Moncton on May 5.

The former mayor of St. Andrews was cited as someone who initially saw the need, was instrumental in establishing the transit authority, and then worked diligently as its chair, guiding it through the labyrinth of government funding sources while tirelessly maintaining contact with potential riders.

“Stan has clearly demonstrated his belief in rural public transit as an essential public service,” said Michael Perry, a long-time member of TAA’s board of directors who presented the award on behalf of the advocacy group.

“During his term as mayor, Stan came to the realization that a growing number of his constituents were prevented from full participation in the resources and benefits of both society and the economy because they lacked the freedom to readily access transportation. These included a broad demographic: seniors no longer wishing to drive, young people, particularly of college student age, people with disabilities, newly-arrived immigrants, and those unable to drive or whose financial situation precluded the purchase of a car. Their growing isolation from a society where mobility is a necessity became an increasing cause of concern, which resulted in many being unable to access timely health care, employment, and post-secondary education.”

The John Pearce Award was created to honour Transport Action Atlantic’s president emeritus, who retired last year from active participation after 40 years of dedicated public transportation advocacy.  It is awarded annually to an individual or group to recognize an outstanding contribution, consistent with Mr. Pearce’s life-long passion.

“Stan Choptiany’s ‘never-say-die’ leadership ultimately achieved the return of daily bus service linking rural communities in Charlotte County with Saint John,” says TAA president Ted Bartlett.  “Without his tireless efforts, last September’s start-up of RuralLynx almost certainly would not have happened.  We thank him for his contribution, and will continue to support his efforts to make this service a success, and a model for transit in other rural areas of Canada.”