VIA Rail Canada’s annual meeting offers some forward-looking details
MONTREAL – In a context of continued service disruptions, VIA Rail Canada released its pre-recorded annual public meeting last week, with brief reports from President Françoise Bertrand, President and CEO Cynthia Garneau and Chief Executive Officer of the financial management Marie-Claude Cardin.
The meeting took place as the Canada-U.S. Border remains closed until at least June 21, Canadian vaccinations lag behind, and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Manitoba and the Maritime provinces,
Garneau says more than 1,000 trains were canceled in February 2020 following nationwide blockades by First Nations groups and supporters (following a dispute over a pipeline in British Columbia), followed system-wide cancellations due to a pandemic. Ridership for the year fell 77.1%, Cardin said, but spending fell only 21.2% due to cutbacks in services but maintaining routes. She says VIA received C $ 135 million (US $ 112 million) in additional funding to cover the shortfall.
As was the case with meetings in previous years, an online forum responding to questions submitted in advance provided more detailed information on the status of current and future operations and initiatives. Here is a summary of the information revealed:
the ocean and maritime provinces: There is no firm date for the return of the Montreal-Halifax overnight plane because non-essential travel between provinces continues to be banned. But when the ocean returns, it will be a mix of the heritage stainless steel Budd (HEP-1 and HEP-2) and Renaissance fleets, with a locomotive at each end operating the push-pull because VIA lost access to a turning loop in Halifax.
Since the seats of Renaissance coaches cannot be rotated, economy class passengers will travel in the old Canadian coaches, while Renaissance sleeping, catering and service coaches could be supplemented with Chateau-class stainless steel sleepers. However, according to VIA, “in the current context where VIA Rail provides essential services, dome cars have limited use. ocean service and will not be available in order to limit interactions on board the train. “
The company said that temporarily establishing shorter routes in the Maritimes would also not be possible while travel restrictions are in place, “since our maintenance facility for the Ocean, where all major equipment inspections and repairs take place, is located in Montreal. There is also no date on which Quebec tracks to Gaspé will once again be able to accommodate passenger trains, but VIA says trains will be reinstated when that happens.
the Canadian and extension of the service: The flagship Toronto-Vancouver, British Columbia began offering a full weekly round trip on May 17 after operating only as far east as Winnipeg, Manitoba since resuming operations last December. VIA expects to “fully take over the Canadian when conditions permit ”, but the company’s“ fleet modernization ”of 71 heritage cars will not be completed until 2024.
VIA says it will “explore the replacement of its intercity and regional fleet and submit a proposal to shareholders for consideration,” but gives no indication of when this process could begin. When asked about establishing a road in Alberta between Edmonton and Calgary, the company said, “At the moment we unfortunately don’t have the resources (ie Equipment, infrastructure, tracks, stations) necessary to expand our services. ”
The company also claims that it does not intend to redirect the Canadian between Toronto and Winnipeg or establish a separate service on the Canadian Pacific Railway to serve Thunder Bay, Ontario, and is “unable to comment” on the filling of transit voids created when Greyhound closed Canadian operations on May 13.
New hallway equipment: VIA does not intend to use new trainsets that will be delivered by Siemens anywhere other than its current city of Quebec-Montreal-Toronto-Windsor, Ontario. corridor. Testing is expected to begin by the end of 2021, with the first trains in paid service in 2022. VIA has released the first images of one of the new locomotives; in addition to the photo above, an image with 360 degree view is available here.
High frequency rail: VIA would say the company’s plan to build a passenger-only route between Quebec City and Montreal, and between Ottawa and Toronto, is “one step closer.” That’s because, says Garneau, “VIA and the joint office of the Canada Infrastructure Bank reported to the federal government at the end of the year.
But the feasibility of the project remains unresolved more than five years after the introduction of the plan. It would build tracks on a long-abandoned Canadian Pacific side route through rural Ontario. It remains to be determined how to share tracks with CN at the Montreal and Toronto bottlenecks, establish a price for the entire project and identify a source of funding.
An indication of how much heavy cargo remains can be found in a statement from the President of the Treasury Board of Canada. VIA had received C $ 491 million (US $ 406 million) over six years for infrastructure investments “to reduce bottlenecks and improve fluidity and connectivity.” . this will allow VIA Rail to take an important step towards high-frequency rail in the corridor, ”the company says.
The President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos, however, said that VIA “will have to do work over the next few weeks and months to get back to the Canadian government and then to all of us to provide more details on what they will do exactly. with that substantial initial sum of money and their plan for the future. “
VIA says cities between Quebec and Toronto along the CN main line would continue to be served, with “regional hubs” in Drummondville, Quebec (between Quebec and Montreal) and Kingston, Ontario. (between Montreal and Toronto) which “will improve services through better planning adapted to the needs of surrounding communities”. He gives no details of how these trains would better compete for track space with CN freight traffic.
A 22 minute video of the meeting with agent comments is available here.
The full questions and answers section is available here.
First quarter figures remain down
In addition, on Monday, VIA released figures for the first quarter of January to March 2021, showing a drop in ridership of 80.2% and revenues of 80.9% compared to the same period in 2020, while operating expenses fell 34.1%. CEO Garneau said in A press release that the company “continued to provide our public service when circumstances permitted, and to work and adjust our recovery plan to ensure that we are ready to accommodate all of our passengers once the situation improves. Transportation options have been severely affected by the pandemic, but I want to reiterate our commitment to resume all routes across the country once conditions allow.