VIA Rail Operations (Part Three)

After talking about what trains/services VIA Rail could add, and where, I would like to talk about the other two important parts of the equation: financing and rolling stock.

Financing

Right now, VIA receives operating revenue from ticket sales and grants from the Federal Government.  The Federal Government also, from time to time, provides capital costs for rebuiding rolling stock, to acquire new stock, to build/upgrade stations, etc.

What I would like to see is what is similar to Amtrak in the U.S.  Some states provide some (or all) of the funding to operate Amtrak trains in their state.  This takes the financial responsibility off the Federal Government.  It would be great for VIA to do the same.

Some example routes where the Federal Government could make a deal with a province over the operating costs of a train are:

  • The commuter runs of trains between Toronto and London (#82 from London in the morning, and #83 from Toronto in the evening.)  This arrangement sort of occurred when the train started and the Ontario Government paid for some of its operating costs.  The Ontario Government could pay for a good share of the costs through its agency Metrolinx.
  • The restored commuter run to Niagara Falls.  Again, this benefits GO Transit, as well as essentially being a run for commuters.
  • The Toronto-Kingston trains #651 (#655 on Saturday) and #650.  These trains provide a commuter service again, so it benefits the Toronto area.
  • The restored Halifax-Sydney train would benefit from an investment from the Nova Scotia Government, whose citizens would benefit the most from the train.
  • The day trin between Toronto and North Bay, as well as the overnight train to Cochrane.  The Ontario Government used to operate a day train between Toronto and Cochrane until September 2012, and paid for part of the cost (through the ONR) of the overnight train that the ONR and VIA ran until 1990.  Both could be mostly covered by the Federal Government until Ontario is encouraged enough to help with the costs, as well as receiving the running standards of VIA.
  • The three “Quebec” runs – from Montreal to Gaspé, Montreal to Jonquière, and Montreal to Sennaterre.  The Gaspé train, the Chaleur, is an overnight run, but as it arrives in Montreal in the morning and departs Montreal in the evenings does benefit residents for the Gaspé Peninsula to make a day trip to Montreal if operated correctly.  The other two runs are day trains now and also provide a benefit to Northern Quebec citizens.
  • The ‘Hudson Bay‘ train between between Winnipeg and Churchill.  Again, this run is an overnight (two night) run, but benefits the citizens of Manitoba the most – although it does briefly enter Saskatchewan, so perhaps the Saskatchewan Government could provide some funding.
  • The Calgary to Edmonton run benefits Albertians and could at least partly be covered by the Alberta Government.

The Federal Govenrment, if it restored service as I have suggested in my last two blogs, would see a large increase in operating costs for VIA, would also see some benefit in increased employment throughout Canada by operating more trains.  It also would benefit if it could get Provincial Governments to pay VIA directly for operating some routes.  However, the big issue here is the lack of a VIA Rail Act to provide that VIA receives the funding it requires.

VIA currently has a free magazine whcih people can get onboard VIA trains or from some stations.  Advertising in this magazine helps to cover the costs of this magazine, but if it turns a small profit, it would also help to pay for trains.  Perhaps an online version with more information, especially VIA related could be sent out to people who are willing to pay to subscribe – another source of income, on one where advertisers may pay slightly higher rates for.

Rolling Stock

VIA does have plenty of rolling stock, much of it purchased secondhand from the CPR, England, or the U.S.  However, it did purchase its LRC fleet new, which has started through a rebuild.  Their 21 P42 locomotives are only aproximately 13 years old, and its 53 F40PH-2 locoomotive fleet has just gone through an extensive rebuild to make them more efficient and to extend its life.

VIA operates 98 ‘LRC’ style coaches, of which 26 are designed as 56 seat club cars, and 72 as 68 seat coaches.  These care provide the backbone of the equipment for the Corridor.

VIA inherited several coaches, baggage cars, ‘skyline’ dome cars, diners, sleeping cars, and ‘Park Cars’ from the CPR in 1978.  These form the backbone, along with some coaches and baggage cars purchased from Amtrak for the Gaspé run, The Canadian, and the Hudson Bay.

VIA also received another 33 stainless coaches from Amtrak which converted to the same style of interior seating as the LRC fleet, to operate in the corridor.  Of these 33 cars, 10 were configured as club cars.

VIA still operates some 1950s Budd built Rail-Diesel-Cars (RDCs) for its service between Sudbury and White River, as well as the service it operated until recently on Vancouver Island.

VIA purchased the entire fleet of coaches, service cars, and sleepers, some which were not completed from England.  These cars were orignally being built for overnight service between London and the continent.  From these, some sleepers were designed as baggage cars, others as dining cars, and as ‘transition’ cars (to allow for ‘conventional’ equipment to be run at the end of a consist.)  VIA designated them as their ‘Renaissance fleet’ and several sleepers are stored in Thunder Bay still uncompleted.  Some of the coaches were converted for club car service.  This fleet are used for some day trains in the Corridor, and for the Ocean’s equipment.

My recommendation for VIA would be to finish off the sleepers in Thunder Bay if necessary.

For equipment, I am suggesting the VIA place an order for club cars and coaches for operations in the Corridor.  This would enable VIA to increase service in the Corridor and a possible 5th train from Toronto to Windsor, with a section for Sarnia.  Sarnia does not currently receive any trains with club car service, which this would allow.

I would also sugggest a new fleet of additional long distance cars, with similar sleeper configurations of the current Manor and Chateau cars used on The Canadian.  New coaches, diners, and lounge cars would be required, but if VIA order new Skyline and Park cars it would also allow the restored Super Continental to run with the similar equipment at The Canadian.  These cars could also be used on the overnight trains out of Toronto to Cochrane, Montreal, and New York/Chicago I discussed in Part Two.

New self-propelled cars, which are designed to meet the requirements of disabled people, plus can operate either as a single car, or in a group of cars (such as the RDCs) would allow for new routes to be exprimented with, or for routes that might not have a large passenger base but might serve as a feeder or to supplement other routes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, all this will require a total rethink in how VIA is operated like in Ottawa.  VIA needs a reliable stream of subsidies for both Operating and Capital costs so it can expand, and maintain, a much larger network that will better service the nation.  Only then will VIA once again become a great provider of transportation in this country.

Revenue must comes from ticket sales, operating subsidies from both at the Ferderal and the Provincial level, from advertising (their free onboard magazine does this to a degree) and from renting out space not required at stations they own.

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