Urgent Appeal: VIA Rail Long Distance Fleet Renewal

Dear TAA Members and Followers,

VIA Rail’s services across Canada are nearing a critical point. The fleet that supports VIA’s long distance services, including the Ocean, VIA’s last remaining service in Atlantic Canada, is rapidly approaching the end of its serviceable life. If VIA is not able to launch procurement for new equipment as soon as possible, this could mean the end of all Canadian long distance passenger service in the early 2030s.

Transport Action Atlantic and our national and regional affiliates are working hard to tell the federal government that action is needed immediately.

There are two things that you can do today to help:

  1. Sign the House of Commons petition, which calls for both long distance fleet funding and other critical VIA improvements
  2. Fill out the Budget 2024 survey to voice your support for funding for VIA’s long distance fleet renewal.

Please read on below for more details on how to take action today, and please share this message with those you know who also support the future of passenger rail in this country.

As always, your support is critical to keep passenger rail on track in Atlantic Canada and beyond!

Sincerely,

Tim Hayman
President, Transport Action Atlantic
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

House of Commons Petition

A campaign is underway to help VIA Rail maintain its services and increase on-time performance as well as make other improvements to ensure it can deliver sustainable rail transportation across Canada, through a petition to the House of Commons.

Created by Transport Action Canada (www.transportaction.ca), a national public transportation and passenger advocacy group (TAA’s national affiliate), the petition asks that the government ensure funding to renew VIA Rail’s long-distance fleet is provided in the 2024 federal budget, to avert service cuts in Atlantic and Western Canada.

VIA is entering a second federal budget cycle asking for funding to replace its aging long-distance fleet. Engineering reports show that the fleet is nearing the end of its serviceable life, with many cars at 70 years of age. Given the timeline for ordering and manufacturing, if funding is not provided this spring to order a new, fully accessible, modern fleet, VIA will no longer be able to provide train service beyond the Quebec-Windsor corridor by the early 2030s.

This would mean the demise of ‘The Ocean’ between Montreal and Halifax, the world-famous Toronto-Vancouver ‘The Canadian’, and all other routes that serve smaller cities, remote, and Indigenous communities across the country, as well as the tourism sector.

The public rail operator also often suffers greatly from delays beyond its control, as new CEO Mario Peloquin made clear in an op-ed in the Globe and Mail in October. VIA’s on-time performance has declined to only 60% on railways where freight trains have right of way, while it is 90% on tracks owned by VIA — unfortunately VIA only owns 3% of the tracks it runs on.

The petition therefore asks the government to restore right of way for passenger trains, as envisaged in NDP MP Taylor Bachrach’s private member’s bill C-371, to ensure passengers arrive on time and reduce the padding in train schedules, which would also result in substantial cost savings.

“It’s not just a few hours. Three whole days have been added to the time it takes to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.” says Terry Johnson, President of Transport Action Canada

Advocates are also asking that the government and transport minister Pablo Rodriguez implement several other measures to help VIA Rail provide reliable and environmentally friendly transportation from coast to coast. This would include providing VIA Rail with a legislative mandate to maintain and expand passenger rail service in Canada, which the Crown Corporation has lacked since its creation in 1978; providing for passenger and worker representation on its board of directors, which contributes to the success of other national carriers in Germany and France; and addressing outsourcing concerns by ensuring the public operator’s continued role in the High Frequency Rail project.

The petition is open for signatures until April 7th, whereupon it will be presented in Parliament, and the government will be required to table a response. The House of Commons petition can be found at: https://www.ourcommons.ca/petitions/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-4754.

Backgrounder – click to download

Budget 2024 Submissions

The federal government is currently accepting submissions from Canadians with their priorities ahead of Budget 2024. This is a key opportunity to provide your input and voice support for public transportation issues that matter to you.

TAA will be making a formal pre-budget submission covering both passenger rail and other key transportation issues in the region (intercity buses, ferries, and freight rail), but we also encourage you to fill out the survey to voice your support. You can access the “Let’s Talk Budget 2024” form here: https://www.letstalkbudget24.ca/let-s-talk-budget-2024

The deadline to make submissions is Feburary 9th (this Friday), so please take a few minutes to fill out the questionnaire in the coming days.

If you’re looking for guidance on your submission as it relates to VIA Rail’s long distance fleet renewal, please see the sample below from TAA’s draft budget submission. Please also add your own perspectives on why maintaining and improving passenger rail service is important to you!

The federal government needs to immediately provide the funding for VIA Rail Canada to proceed with a formal procurement process to replace the entire train fleet used on its long distance, regional and remote services. 

Critically, this funding should support an order for enough trains to provide at least daily service on long distance routes. In the case of the Ocean, this would mean sufficient equipment for 3 full trainsets (with appropriate spares). It is critical that VIA be able to use this opportunity to ensure a return to former levels of passenger rail service nationwide. 

It’s time for Canadians across the country to be provided with a rail service that is modern, reliable, sustainable, and fully accessible.