Monday, July 16, 2012

Opinions on VIA Rail Cuts

VIA 6449 at Belledune
VIA Rail's Ocean near Belledune

There were dueling opinion pieces in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald about the recent VIA cuts modernization, especially the Halifax-Montreal Ocean.

The first article said that the VIA cuts won't affect tourism in Halifax because the service wasn't being used. Bob Sime, a travel consultant, was quoted as saying that "the airline today is the rail and bus coach service of yesterday".

Personally I find it hard to believe that hardly any tourists use the Ocean, and another travel consultant, Carl Fowlerwrote a rebuttal, pointing out that ridership on the Ocean actually increased in 2011 over 2010. Mr. Fowler did highlight some service problems on the train and pointed out that the cut from six to three trips/week is going to "devastate" the train.

VIA Rail is also laying off station agents in many of its stations as it is going to e-ticketing. I don't have a complete list but they include stations in Ontario and Quebec.

I stated my opinions in this article. You can see other articles on the cuts all over the web.


Anonymous said...

Any one who understands the transportation industry where the operator has to invest in costly infrastructure know that the load factor (air) or train length (rail) is dependent on the frequency of the service. With the reduction of CN's freight volumes in Northern New Brunswick, they have no need to invest in maintaining the line. Since VIA is a user of the line, our Transport Canada rules say that with lower maintenance levels, the trains must run slower. It is only natural that people will look for other alternatives than spending time on a train that is moving slower than a car.

With lower speeds comes with it higher fuel and labour costs. Any operator facing this problem would very logically cut service. However, the problem is compounded with a reduction in service (number of round trips). I would predict that the projected costs savings will not materialize as the number of passengers will also decrease. I would expect that whent the service is cut back 50%, that the passenger count will fall closer to 70%. I expect the service to be gone in 18 months unless the government or private industry does something.

VIA is doing the same thing on the Toronto to Niagara Falls train. With lower service levels will come lower counts per car. Eventually that train will disappear and be assumed by GO Transit.

In the 1960's, Hamilton has express and limited trains into Toronto Union. After the creation of VIA, the service levels disappeared. GO Trains did not replace the level of service. Yes, we have a few very early morning trains that service Toronto but make many stops along the way. With a combination of slower service (GO versus VIA) and a reduction in the number of trains, virtually all of the commuting is done by car as no other service is effectively available.

Canadian Train Geek said...

I totally agree, once you start cutting frequency then the cost/rider goes up and the cuts continue.

This kind of "demarketing" was well practiced by CN and CP in the Maritimes in the 1970s and 1980s on branch lines. Reduced maintenance leads to reduced service leads to reduced customers leads to abandonment.

neroden@gmail said...

"VIA is doing the same thing on the Toronto to Niagara Falls train. With lower service levels will come lower counts per car. Eventually that train will disappear and be assumed by GO Transit. "

For clarification, VIA has basically eliminated Niagara Falls service already.

The only Niagara Falls train remaining is the Maple Leaf to New York City, which uses Amtrak equipment. It has VIA crews on the Canadian side of the border, but that's all VIA does for it. Of course, it is rarely on time westbound (it's coming from New York City and has to cross the border!) so it's practically useless for travel within Canada.

(I doubt the Maple Leaf will go away. If VIA tries to kill it, Amtrak will bring it back, because there is serious pressure in the US to have a Toronto train.)

VIA is basically trying to drive itself out of business.
- Zero local trains to Niagara.
- One train a day to Sarnia, on a bad schedule.
- "Land Cruise" service on the Canadian, on a schedule useless for travel.
- The same on the "Ocean" -- but without the service quality -- and this despite the fact that the Ocean has been widely reported to be full west of Moncton.

This leaves Quebec-Montreal-Toronto-Windsor service, plus a little bit of service to London and Windsor.

Cut the branch lines and ridership on the trunk lines will drop. The result will be lower ridership even between Toronto and Montreal.

These cuts don't make sense. This isn't like the end of the Ontario Northland service, where arguably there just weren't enough people to support regular rail service. These cuts are cuts to well-used services which have lots of potential for improvement.

I am sure nothing will get better until the criminal Harper is removed from the PM's office. (Hopefully he will then go to prison for his crimes.)

But even after he's removed, it may require replacement of the entire VIA Rail board -- when Amtrak faced similar budget cuts, Amtrak announced outright that the cuts were a bad idea and were being forced by the federal budget. Contrast the announcements from VIA Rail, which pretend that these savage cuts are part of "modernization".

Canadian Train Geek said...

Well, Nathanael, I prefer not to get into personal attacks, even on politicians who may or may not deserve it. The rest of your comment makes sense to me. I am frankly puzzled why the federal government has cut VIA funding right after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in refurbishing equipment and stations. It makes no sense.

I don't tend to see a grand conspiracy to eliminate VIA, just a short-sighted budget crunch and nobody advocating for VIA at the cabinet level.

neroden@gmail said...

The fact that VIA management is pretending that cuts are good -- that is what speaks to a deliberate conspiracy to eliminate VIA.

If VIA management were apologetic about the cuts, then I'd believe it was a simply short-sighted budget crunch.

I've watched Amtrak long enough to know the difference.