VIA cautiously optimistic over holiday results

A train curves from the lower left of the photo to the upper right.
An all-Budd stainless steel extra holiday Ocean rolls east across the Tantramar Marsh near Sackville NB on December 30.
PHOTO: Tim Hayman

The new management team at VIA Rail is evaluating the results of initiatives taken for the 2014-2015 Christmas and New Year season.  In November the company announced three additional departures in each direction over the three-week peak travel period, to augment the usual tri-weekly schedule that has been in place since October 2012.  And, for the first time in many years, VIA launched a newspaper and radio advertising campaign to promote the additional service.

The extra trains operated eastbound on December 18th,  22nd, and 29th, and westbound on December 20th and 27th, as well as January 3rd.  The additional consists were all Budd stainless steel cars, which offered the lowest cost per passenger mile and flexibility to add extra coaches or sleepers if needed.

Martin Landry, VIA’s chief commercial officer, was cautiously optimistic about the outcome, acknowledging that the decision to add the extra holiday trains wasn’t made until November, and – despite the advertising campaign – really came too late for maximum impact.  Nevertheless, total traffic over the holiday period was up 6 percent from the previous year.

“We knew we were late to the game, but we wanted to do it anyway,” he said, viewing the experience as a learning opportunity in finding solutions to dealing with what he calls the “super peaks” in traffic. “I’m not going to commit to anything right now, but I don’t think this is a one-off. It wasn’t a home run, but I’m not disappointed by the outcome…not as strong as I might have liked, but there were lessons learned.”  Points to consider in retrospect include timing as well as the type of accommodation offered, given that the demand for economy seats was stronger than for sleeper space – which could be explained in part by the fact that only “sleeper-plus” class was offered on the extra trains.  He also acknowledges that the student market segment is very important to VIA.

Woman with dark hair, in a winter dress coat, standing next to a VIA Rail traincar.
Susan Williams is VIA’s new GM for eastern Canada. She will be the featured guest speaker at TAA’s annual general meeting in Moncton on April 25.

Mr. Landry is also very enthusiastic about the recent decision to appoint a senior executive with responsibility for Atlantic Canada.  Susan Williams, originally from Nova Scotia, will be based in Halifax and will be paying very close attention to the market in this region.  Her mandate, he says, is “don’t assume anything,” and includes examining all possible options, such as how best to provide inter-city service within the Maritimes, and through service to Toronto.

In a February 3 news release, VIA said “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.”

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