VIA reports positive holiday ridership

The rear end of two stainless-steel trains, with dome-observation cars, at a station platform
A pair of Ocean train sets in Halifax just before Christmas. Extra departures for the holidays meant this sight was once again common for a couple weeks. (Photo – Tim Hayman)


VIA Rail is reporting positive results from the 2016-2017 Christmas/New Year’s holiday season. VIA issued a press release on Jan. 12 claiming “record” results, though it’s admittedly not at all clear what their frame of reference is to declare these records (best numbers ever? In the past decade? In the past 5 years?)

Putting aside the hyperbole, the message is still a positive one. VIA has been promoting their trains as an ideal way to travel at that time of year (in particular), and more people seem to be getting that message.

Overall, VIA reported a 16% system wide increase in passenger totals when compared to last year, and a 20% increase in revenues. Increases in the Corridor were consistent with these numbers (16.8% increase in passengers), while both the Canadian (13.8%) and Ocean (2.7%) saw positive changes as well, and small positive trends (1.1%) were found on other regional services.

Given VIA’s decision to run extra trains on the Ocean over the holidays (3 extra trips in each direction over a 2 week period) for the third year in a row, it’s positive to see some continued increases. Last year saw numbers up from the previous year, and this year once again continued that trend – according to VIA, an increase of 2.7% in passenger totals. Local VIA management also reported that more trips were made this year on longer segments (e.g. Halifax-Montreal, Truro-Ste-Foy, etc.), which is also an encouraging trend. Keep in mind, as well, that the 2.7% increase is compared to last year’s equivalent number of trains – if compared to simply running 3 trains/week during that period, the increase would be considerably higher.

There is some confusion, however, in the details – last year’s press release claimed that VIA carried 8,000 passengers on 24 trains during the holiday season. This year, once again on 24 trains, they report only 7,600 passengers carried, but claim that numbers were up by 2.7%.

TAA has not yet received a clear explanation from VIA for this discrepancy. If they are to be believed with their claims about this year’s increased totals, this suggests that the numbers for one of these years must have been incorrect.

In any case, it may be a trivial point – as long as VIA is considering this year’s continuation of the extra trains experiment to be a success, it helps to make the case that adding extra trains during the holidays is a good idea. Furthermore, it continues to help lend credence to the argument that adding frequencies throughout the year would be a worthwhile move.

One other highlight from VIA’s press release is the note that the average occupancy rate of the Ocean during the holiday period reached 71%. Some of the trains had lighter loads depending on the day and the direction of travel, but a number of them were very full or even entirely sold out. Given that VIA was running full peak-length consists (19-car Renaissance consists and 14-car HEP consists), this is all the more encouraging.


Here’s the relevant excerpt from the press release, which you can also read in full HERE:

The Ocean route, which connects Montreal and Halifax, carried 7,600 passengers during the holidays. The average occupancy rate for the 24 Ocean trains running between December 18 and January 6 reached 71%. An especially large number of passengers along this route travelled between Halifax, Bathurst, Campbellton, Moncton and Montreal.

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