Advocates have questions on National Railway Day

Transport Action Atlantic is asking why it is taking so long for VIA Rail and the Government of Canada to deliver on an outstanding promise to improve frequency of passenger rail services in the Maritimes. Today is National Railway Day – the anniversary of the last spike ceremony that marked completion of Canada’s continuous rail link from coast to coast on November 7, 1885.

“It’s a very appropriate occasion to pose this question,” says Ted Bartlett, president of the regional public transportation advocacy group, “and not just because it’s a date that was so important in the development of Canada’s nationhood. It was three years ago this week that VIA’s CEO unveiled a plan to reintroduce regional service within Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, using the same type of rail diesel cars (RDCs) that had been discontinued in January 1990 as part of sweeping cuts mandated by the Mulroney Government. His timeline called for the routes between Moncton and Halifax and Moncton and Campbellton to be operational by late summer or early fall of 2016.

“That goal, unfortunately, was not met. Neither were several other target dates subsequently offered. We’re still waiting, and VIA management is no longer even suggesting possible start dates. Furthermore, we understand that there will be no additional frequency or capacity offered during the holiday travel season this year, something that had become standard practice in recent years to augment the very limited schedule normally offered in this region.” Continue reading “Advocates have questions on National Railway Day”

VIA President in Halifax, discusses plans for the Maritimes

A VIA Rail self-propelled rail diesel car waits at a station
A pair of VIA Rail RDCs, similar to those proposed for regional services in the region. Photo by Tim Hayman

VIA Rail President and CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano was in Halifax on January 31, 2017 to deliver a talk to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. Billed as “VIA Rail’s vision in the Maritimes”, Desjardins-Siciliano addressed a full banquet hall during a luncheon at the Westin Nova Scotian.

Desjardins-Siciliano’s talk was accompanied by a slide presentation, which can be found on our website HERE.

The talk addressed VIA’s plans for the Maritimes, which are essentially two-fold: the anticipated launch of daily regional train services between Campbellton and Moncton and Moncton and Halifax, and the exploration of commuter rail possibilities in the city of Halifax.

It also delved into VIA’s broader goals at the moment, which include seeking funding for a new fleet and dedicated tracks in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. Though this doesn’t directly affect the Maritimes, Desjardins-Siciliano reiterated the mantra that what’s good for the Corridor is good for the rest of the system. If VIA can generate additional revenue from that operation, they can use it to add new services and expand their offerings throughout the country. The president has stated on several occasions that the ability to look at launching new regional services in the Maritimes is the result of positive returns in the Corridor in recent years, which have freed up additional funds.

The plans for new regional rail services were originally announced close to two years ago. Despite the delay in launching them, Desjardins-Siciliano was clear that they are a priority for VIA (the top priority outside of the Corridor, in fact), and staff in the region have been hard at work trying to make the necessary arrangements to get the services off the ground. As previously reported, the plan is to run daily weekday trains between Campbellton and Moncton, and between Moncton and Halifax. Trains would depart Campbellton and Moncton heading eastbound early in the morning, and return westbound in the evening. This would allow for travellers to come into Moncton or Halifax for the day to shop, attend medical appointments or other obligations, and return later on the same day.  Continue reading “VIA President in Halifax, discusses plans for the Maritimes”

VIA Rail eyes new train services for the Maritimes

A VIA Rail train waits at a snow platform on a bright sunny day outside the train station in Halifax
The Maritimes could soon have increased VIA Rail train services in the form of new regional trains (Photo by Tim Hayman)

VIA Rail is talking about making changes to its Atlantic Canadian passenger services, and for the first time in many years, they’re not talking about cuts. VIA president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano was in the Maritimes this week and took part in a call-in show on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon program on Monday. During that program he mentioned that VIA is seriously looking at adding new regional train services in the Maritimes, potentially as early as next year.

The proposed services would include a Campbellton-Moncton train and a Moncton-Halifax train, both of which would make eastbound trips in the morning and return trips west in the evening. These trains would operate in addition to the thrice weekly Ocean and would be focused on providing a regular, useful service to local travellers within the region. Details about the days of operation and the type of equipment that may be used for the service are unknown, but it seems clear that these trains would run a more frequent schedule than the Ocean, and would offer more basic coach accommodations.

The potential for regional train services in the Maritimes has been on the radar since Susan Williams was appointed as General Manager for VIA’s eastern region earlier this year. At Transport Action Atlantic’s Annual General Meeting in Moncton this past spring, Ms. Williams mentioned that developing a business case for regional services was part of the mandate of her new position, along with exploring ways to increase ridership on the Ocean. A press release at the time of her appointment stated that “Ms. Williams will be working to bring VIA Rail’s service offering in line with this part of the country’s needs and demands. This is one of the first steps of a larger strategy to better serve Eastern Canada”.

The comments this week from Desjardins-Siciliano provide the first real look at what sort of a strategy VIA has been working on behind the scenes, and also offer a potential timeline – in an interview with CTV news, Desjardins-Siciliano said that VIA is “hoping to have the service in place no later than the school year start which is August and September of next year for university students and maybe as early as next summer”.

Continue reading “VIA Rail eyes new train services for the Maritimes”