[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”