VIA Rail Operations (Part Two)

In this second part of my blogs on VIA Rail, I am going to talk about VIA’s Corridor service, the backbone of VIA’s system.  It runs from Windsor, on the border between Ontario and Michagan, to Quebec City.  It serves Windsor and Sarnia in the extreme southwest of Ontario, through London, Woodstock, Brantford, Stratford, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Kingston, Brockville, Ottawa, Montreal, and finally Quebec City.

While the CPR did offer passenger service in this corridor, VIA essentially operates trains operating on the CNR mainline and routes it inherited from the CNR.

VIA currently operates the following trains in its corridor:

  • one train per day between Toronto and Sarnia (via Stratford)
  • two to three trains per day between Toronto and London
  • three or four trains per day between Toronto and Windsor
  • one train per day between Toronto and Niagara Falls (and on to New York City, as operated by Amtrak)
  • up to five trains per day between Toronto and Ottawa
  • up to six trains per day between Toronto and Montreal
  • up to six trains per day between Ottawa and Montreal
  • Four to six trains per day between Montreal and Quebec City.

Weekends tend to see less service, with the most service during the week.  All trains operate during the day and most offer VIA1 service.  WIFI is available on most trains.  The Maple Leaf offers service between Toronto and New York City and is operated by VIA Rail between Toronto and Niagara Falls Ontario, and by Amtrak from Niagara Falls Ontario to New York City using Amtrak locomotives and rolling stock.

Much of VIA’s business is between Toronto and Ottawa, and Toronto and Montreal.  However, this is demand for service between Toronto and London as well.

Between Toronto and London, VIA has two routes: the ‘mainline’ via Oakville, Aldershot, Brantford, Woodstock, and Ingersoll, and the ‘back’ route via Brampton, Georgetown, Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and St. Marys.

My suggestions are to add service as follows:

  • Add a second train per day, departing Toronto in the morning, and Sarnia in the late afternoon, running via London and Woodstock.  As there is a Windsor train at 7:35 a.m. and another at 12:15 p.m., I’d suggest this train depart at 11:00 a.m.
  • Add another train between Toronto and London via Woodstock in the morning, departing Toronto around 9:00 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.
  • Bring back the evening commuter train between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
  • An overnight train between Toronto and Montreal.  Originally the Cavalier until 1990, and then the Enterprise between 2000 and 2005.  This would provide for a great connection between an early evening departure of either one of the two transcontinental trains in Toronto, as well as making a connection in the morning from Montreal with the morning departure of a transcontinental train.  For more on the transcontinental trains, see part one of this discussion.
  • I would also consider offering an overnight train service between Toronto and either Chicago or New York City.  I’d go with both possible routes if Amtrak was willing to partner with VIA on this.
  • As discussed in part one, I’d also offer a day train between Toronto and North Bay, and an overnight train between Toronto and Cochrane.  Both trains could stop in Richmond Hill and Beaverton.
  •  An evening Toronto-Montreal train, currently offered two days a week, would be put back on every day.
  • VIA could offer a special train from Toronto (maybe stopping once in Brampton) to Stratford during the summer for matinees at the Stratford Festival.  While the current Toronto-London train #85 makes it to Stratford for a matinee, this new service could potentially run slightly earlier (to avoid the risk of a run to the theatre in the event of a delay) and, if Stratford teamed up with VIA, the possiblity of speakers riding the train to discuss the performance(s) people will be seeing.  While I doubt this idea may take off, it is a possibility.

All this would help to offer some improvements to the Corridor which is already the main source of ridership for VIA.  Not much needs to be added, but the increased service would be beneficial to many.

Next up: Funding and equipment issues.

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