Minimum adequate service in Western Canada

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danasgoodstuff

OBS Chief
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Jun 23, 2021
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When I lived in SK in pre-VIA times, there was a daily E-W train thru Saskatoon (2 a day in busy season), a rail liner to Regina and a daily E-W thru Regina too on the CP mainline. So, what would you like to see in Western Canada within the realm of what might actually be possible? I'd say an absolute minimum that would make me happy would be every other day on the CNR thru Saskatoon - Edmonton - Jasper alternating with every other thru Regina - Calgary - Lake Louise, over two weeks every day of the week would have service. East of Winnepeg you could have every day to Toronto, maybe on two different routes? North - South service between Saskatoon & Regina and Calgary & Edmonton at least twice a day, maybe service to Prince Albert or Lethbridge or the Peace River. Maybe daily on the Jasper to Van and Banff to Van bits? This is ambitious, but it doesn't seem insane to me. And bring VIA to downtown Saskatoon on the CPR line that goes right thru town by an old station and connects two CNR E-W lines. Am I crazy?
 
You're not crazy - just idealistic. There's probably not a "business case" for extending practical routes like your two Saskatchewan suggestions to tourist destinations like Jasper and Lake Louise, but otherwise why not? I have some knowledge of Ontario's plan to have daily service between Toronto and Winnipeg. They were quite prepared to go it alone with their "partner" CP Rail and without VIA participation. The pandemic has changed everything, including priorities. North-South, in Saskatchewan or Alberta, is far less likely since direct provincial participation would be required for either and you're talking about the two most conservative spending provinces in the country. The Alberta route gets more attention, i.e. everyone knows it should be restored, but there is no money to make it happen. It has been studied to death but studies don't lay track.
 
I have some knowledge of Ontario's plan to have daily service between Toronto and Winnipeg. They were quite prepared to go it alone with their "partner" CP Rail and without VIA participation. The pandemic has changed everything, including priorities.
I‘ve never heard of any such plans, but would be very curious to learn more about them!
 
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When I lived in SK in pre-VIA times, there was a daily E-W train thru Saskatoon (2 a day in busy season), a rail liner to Regina and a daily E-W thru Regina too on the CP mainline. So, what would you like to see in Western Canada within the realm of what might actually be possible? I'd say an absolute minimum that would make me happy would be every other day on the CNR thru Saskatoon - Edmonton - Jasper alternating with every other thru Regina - Calgary - Lake Louise, over two weeks every day of the week would have service. East of Winnepeg you could have every day to Toronto, maybe on two different routes? North - South service between Saskatoon & Regina and Calgary & Edmonton at least twice a day, maybe service to Prince Albert or Lethbridge or the Peace River. Maybe daily on the Jasper to Van and Banff to Van bits? This is ambitious, but it doesn't seem insane to me. And bring VIA to downtown Saskatoon on the CPR line that goes right thru town by an old station and connects two CNR E-W lines. Am I crazy?
The only crazy thing happened a while ago and that was building a second transcon through Saskatoon.

Here's western Canada in the summer of 1976 on the CN:

Winnipeg <> Vancouver = daily Super Continental Trains 1&2
Winnipeg <> Thompson = tri-weekly Trains 90&91 via Kamsack
Winnipeg <> Churchill = tri-weekly Trains 92,93,94,95 via Swan River
Wabowden <> Gilliam = twice weekly Trains 294&295
Gilliam <> Churchill = weekly Trains 294 & 295
Saskatoon <> The Pas = tri-weekly Trains 688&689
Regina <> Prince Albert = daily Trains 680&683 [RDC]
Prince Albert <> Hudson Bay = tri-weekly Trains 292&293
Dauphin <> Winnipegosis = weekly Trains 284&285
Flin Flon <> Osborne Lake = daily exc SSH Trains 280&281
The Pas <> Lynn Lake = tri-weekly Trains 290&291
Edmonton <> Drumheller = daily Trains 694&695 [RDC}
Edmonton <> Grande Centre = daily Trains 696,697,698,699 via St. Paul [RDC}
Edmonton <> North Battleford = daily Trains 690&691 [RDC]
Jasper <> Prince Rupert = tri-weekly Trains 9&10
McBride <> Prince George = tri-weekly Trains 297&298

The CP had already had a big house cleaning. I don't have Summer 1976 handy, but here's what was left of the CPR west of Winnipeg in Winter 1975/1976:

Winnipeg <> Vancouver = daily Canadian Trains 1&2
Calgary <> South Edmonton = twice daily exc one on Sat AM and one on Sun PM Trains 301, 302, 303, 304
Victoria <> Parksville = daily exc Sunday [RDC] (Courtenay reached by connecting bus)
Vancouver <> Nanaimo = thrice daily Princess of Vancouver

Arrivals and Departures at Fort Saskatchewan on the North Battleford line.
1976 009.jpg

1976 016.jpg

1976 012.jpg
 
I‘ve never heard of any such plans, but would be very curious to learn more about them!
In 2018 the current provincial government fielded a wide-reaching plan for transportation in northwestern Ontario to address service reductions on VIA's Canadian and the withdrawal of Greyhound from the region. The eventual objective was to connect Toronto to Winnipeg through a series of daytime passenger trains (no overnight service), with bus bridges filling the voids in the shorter term. The key added service was daily between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg with former GO Transit bi-levels based in Thunder Bay. Motive power and crew were to be provided by CP or Bombardier (now Alstom Canada). The proposal had several serious flaws but the one that brought it to a grinding halt was the omission of a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, which would be bypassed in favor of VIA's current route between Sudbury and White River on CP. (There were issues getting to Sault Ste. Marie from the east on the Huron Central Railway, which was not maintained to passenger standards and repeatedly threatened with closure.) The local press were having none of that and blamed the government. That sent much of the proposal back to the "drawing board", then along came the pandemic and a seriously watered-down study in 2020 filled with fewer specifics. I no longer receive newsletters from the Ontario MOT and a contact with the northern rail group has retired, but some of this is searchable online. Here are a few key links:

https://www.northernpolicy.ca/passenger-rail
https://www.thesudburystar.com/news/local-news/premier-pressed-on-northern-rail-promise
https://www.ontario.ca/page/connecting-north-draft-transportation-plan-northern-ontario
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thun...-social-media-thunder-bay-greyhound-1.4750453
AFAIK the discussion has shifted to a "loop route" connecting with ONR's restored Northlander, which panders to Sault Ste. Marie and doesn't address the initial concerns further west. Without a provincial election in the near future I doubt much of this will see the light of day, but we can always hope.
 
I'm not sure who commissioned the report or if anyone other than the author took it seriously. He has written several books on the rail industry. Kudos on getting to Page 102.
Greg Gormick has been writing and organizing since at least the 1990's, which means that:
a.) he has learned a lot, and
b.) he has good cause to be bitter about what has not happened.

His report was done for Transport Action Canada, counterpart then to NARP.

"Transport Action Canada, founded as Transport 2000 Canada in 1977, is the nation’s leading citizen transportation advocacy group. We represent the interests of consumers or users..."
 
Greg Gormick has been writing and organizing since at least the 1990's, which means that:
a.) he has learned a lot, and
b.) he has good cause to be bitter about what has not happened.

His report was done for Transport Action Canada, counterpart then to NARP.

"Transport Action Canada, founded as Transport 2000 Canada in 1977, is the nation’s leading citizen transportation advocacy group. We represent the interests of consumers or users..."
Thanks. I wasn't aware of the name change.
 
So, if I were in VIA's shoes, presuming I had/could get the equipment, I'd probably angle for twice daily service Vancouver-Toronto as a policy proposal. However, I'd want to set things up so that people could transfer between CN/CP routings at Winnipeg (and work backwards from there to try and time the trains for the endpoints). Alternatively, given the light population between Winnipeg and southern Ontario, I might say "3x/week on one routing, 4x/week on the other routing, but split both trains at Winnipeg so each line gets daily service west of there", or say "Daily service on both routes, but one route gets the fancy train and the other gets 1-2 sleepers, a coach, and a Skyline car and folks have to connect at Winnipeg".

Northern Ontario is just such a massive gap in population that it's hard to justify a "full service" operation through there daily on both lines (and FWIW I think the CP line has the superior claim in terms of ridership potential there).
 
So, if I were in VIA's shoes, presuming I had/could get the equipment, I'd probably angle for twice daily service Vancouver-Toronto as a policy proposal. However, I'd want to set things up so that people could transfer between CN/CP routings at Winnipeg (and work backwards from there to try and time the trains for the endpoints). Alternatively, given the light population between Winnipeg and southern Ontario, I might say "3x/week on one routing, 4x/week on the other routing, but split both trains at Winnipeg so each line gets daily service west of there", or say "Daily service on both routes, but one route gets the fancy train and the other gets 1-2 sleepers, a coach, and a Skyline car and folks have to connect at Winnipeg".

Northern Ontario is just such a massive gap in population that it's hard to justify a "full service" operation through there daily on both lines (and FWIW I think the CP line has the superior claim in terms of ridership potential there).
Canadian geography and demographics are a challenge, but I would imagine that in northern Ontario a daily train would be the one public transportation option, or at least the one affordable one, much like the Builder is in MT & ND and it would get much higher per capita use because of that, no?
 
Canadian geography and demographics are a challenge, but I would imagine that in northern Ontario a daily train would be the one public transportation option, or at least the one affordable one, much like the Builder is in MT & ND and it would get much higher per capita use because of that, no?
It might, but the sheer ridership is just horridly low. Montana and North Dakota each managed to provide over 100k riders/yr pre-pandemic (though obviously, some of these were "double-counted" as someone could board and disembark within those two states). The Canadian failed to hit 100k riders for the entire year of 2019. Now, this isn't apples to apples (obviously) since the Builder has been daily while the Canadian has been 2-3x/week for the last decade or two, but I'd be hard-pressed to imagine getting more than 25k riders from that gap on the CN route even with daily service (the CP route, with Thunder Bay and Sault St. Marie, would probably do better - I think that routing could probably kick out about 50k riders/yr, maybe a bit more, with daily service given that those cities actually have like 200k people between them).
 
Canadian geography and demographics are a challenge, but I would imagine that in northern Ontario a daily train would be the one public transportation option, or at least the one affordable one, much like the Builder is in MT & ND and it would get much higher per capita use because of that, no?

The northern Ontario segment of the Super Continental was still supplemented tri-weekly between Capreol and Hornepayne when VIA was set up.
1977 092.jpg
 
It might, but the sheer ridership is just horridly low. Montana and North Dakota each managed to provide over 100k riders/yr pre-pandemic (though obviously, some of these were "double-counted" as someone could board and disembark within those two states). The Canadian failed to hit 100k riders for the entire year of 2019. Now, this isn't apples to apples (obviously) since the Builder has been daily while the Canadian has been 2-3x/week for the last decade or two, but I'd be hard-pressed to imagine getting more than 25k riders from that gap on the CN route even with daily service (the CP route, with Thunder Bay and Sault St. Marie, would probably do better - I think that routing could probably kick out about 50k riders/yr, maybe a bit more, with daily service given that those cities actually have like 200k people between them).

To put things into perspective:
Toronto & Winnipeg are approximately 1500 km (950 miles) apart, the same distance as Munich-Istanbul, Boston-Atlanta or Seattle-Los Angeles. The only relevant population centres along the CP route are Kenora (15k), Thunder Bay (123k) and Sudbury (171k) with a combined population of 309k, which is barely more than the population of the metropolitan statistical area around Duluth (291k), i.e. one single second-tier stop of the Empire Builder...:

1682744502928.png
 
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Duluth has no rail service, but the Tri Cities (Pasco-Richland-Kennewick) are on the Builder route. Fargo to Glacier probably has no more than the CP route.

How much ridership did North Ontario generate pre-VIA?
 
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So, if I were in VIA's shoes, presuming I had/could get the equipment, I'd probably angle for twice daily service Vancouver-Toronto as a policy proposal. However, I'd want to set things up so that people could transfer between CN/CP routings at Winnipeg (and work backwards from there to try and time the trains for the endpoints).

An excellent plan. A train a day between each of the major western cities (that is, daily service from Vancouver to both Calgary/Regina and Edmonton/Saskatoon), plus day trains Calgary-Edmonton and Regina-Saskatoon is pretty much my idea of "minimal adequate service." I'd love to see a day train run between whichever city pairs get stuck with middle-of-night service, too, but admit that's more than 'minimal.'

That kind of interchange at Winnipeg was exactly what VIA did, until the 1981 axe fell. A look at any of those old VIA schedules will show you how they did it.
 
Here are the condensed timetables for summer 1979 and 1980, for anyone who hasn't seen them: at least decent times at all the major cities. Until the fall of 1979, the Super Continental was still going via North Bay and Capreol, and the two trains swapped cars in Winnipeg. After that, combined Canadian/Super Continental Sudbury-Winnipeg, and a separate train Capreol-Winnipeg on CN, arriving in Winnipeg at a time to make good connections to the west.
 

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Here are the condensed timetables for summer 1979 and 1980, for anyone who hasn't seen them: at least decent times at all the major cities. Until the fall of 1979, the Super Continental was still going via North Bay and Capreol, and the two trains swapped cars in Winnipeg. After that, combined Canadian/Super Continental Sudbury-Winnipeg, and a separate train Capreol-Winnipeg on CN, arriving in Winnipeg at a time to make good connections to the west.
Thanks for posting. I had been going through my timetable archive to do the same thing. I did the "Winnipeg shuffle" several times, so very familiar with what you're saying.
 
So, if I were in VIA's shoes, presuming I had/could get the equipment, I'd probably angle for twice daily service Vancouver-Toronto as a policy proposal. However, I'd want to set things up so that people could transfer between CN/CP routings at Winnipeg (and work backwards from there to try and time the trains for the endpoints). Alternatively, given the light population between Winnipeg and southern Ontario, I might say "3x/week on one routing, 4x/week on the other routing, but split both trains at Winnipeg so each line gets daily service west of there", or say "Daily service on both routes, but one route gets the fancy train and the other gets 1-2 sleepers, a coach, and a Skyline car and folks have to connect at Winnipeg".
I think this is pretty much what they had from 1985 till the 1990 cuts. When I rode in that period, the Canadian ran daily on the CP route between Toronto and Vancouver, and the Supercontinental was daily on the CN between Winnipeg and Vancouver, with connections to/from the east at Winnipeg. The Canadian was the full-service domeliner, and the Supercon had a couple sleepers, Skyline or diner/lounge and 1-2 coaches.

East of Winnipeg, the CN route was operated more like one of the remote services, with a bare-bones train (though it had a sleeper) running through a couple of days a week between Winnipeg and Capreol (with bus connex at Capreol to the Canadian at Sudbury).

Both the Calgary-Edmonton and Regina-Saskatoon trains were gone by this time, but I remember the Supercontinental and Canadian both being well patronized.
 
An excellent plan. A train a day between each of the major western cities (that is, daily service from Vancouver to both Calgary/Regina and Edmonton/Saskatoon), plus day trains Calgary-Edmonton and Regina-Saskatoon is pretty much my idea of "minimal adequate service." I'd love to see a day train run between whichever city pairs get stuck with middle-of-night service, too, but admit that's more than 'minimal.'

That kind of interchange at Winnipeg was exactly what VIA did, until the 1981 axe fell. A look at any of those old VIA schedules will show you how they did it.
I sense some kind of consensus here that VIA ought to operate Toronto-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Calgary-Vancouver, Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver, Regina-Saskatoon and Edmonton-Calgary at-least daily. Let's ignore Edmonton-Calgary for now, but as someone who has been lucky enough to get exposure to the constraints under which VIA operates, I would like to provide tables for three different passenger rail services (Toronto-SSM-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Calgary-Vancouver and Winnipeg-Regina-Saskatoon-Edmonton-Vancouver):

Train A: Toronto-Sudbury-SSM-White River-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg
1682881112843.png

Train B: Winnipeg-Regina-Saskatoon-Edmonton-Jasper-Kamloops-Vancouver
1682881137224.png

Train C: Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary-Kamloops-Vancouver
1682881197083.png

If anyone is interested in developing their scenarios further, I'd invite them to propose their preferred departure times (preferably for all station highlighted in bold) and let's see where this takes us...
 
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Greg Gormick has been writing and organizing since at least the 1990's, which means that:
a.) he has learned a lot, and
b.) he has good cause to be bitter about what has not happened.

His report was done for Transport Action Canada, counterpart then to NARP.

"Transport Action Canada, founded as Transport 2000 Canada in 1977, is the nation’s leading citizen transportation advocacy group. We represent the interests of consumers or users..."
Greg Gormick is without a doubt one of the most prolific railway historians on this side of the border, but just to highlight the "quality" of his recommendations:

In Section 5.2.3 of his 1-4-10 plan, he estimates that "the construction of a 42-mile Smiths Falls Gananoque cutoff [...] would cost approximately $500 million, thus $11.9 million per mile, whereas in Section 5.2.5, he estimates that "reconstruction of CN’s 11.2-mile Brantford Bypass between Lynden and Paris Junction [...] would cost $150 million", which translates to $13.4 million per mile. I'm not sure to which "similar projects that have been studied and costed in the U.S. recently" he's referring, but is he seriously suggesting that blasting a 110 mph greenfield alignment through the Canadian shield is less expensive than restoring a disused and relatively straight rail corridor???
 
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Why would you go Winnipeg to Regina and then to Saskatoon? Is that just a covert way to get a Regina to Saskatoon train? And those trip times seem painfully slow. Of course the schedule now is significantly slower than it was in the '70s IIRC.
 
Why would you go Winnipeg to Regina and then to Saskatoon? Is that just a covert way to get a Regina to Saskatoon train?

It is perhaps not crazy, if you posit that this new train would carry a mix of short-distance travelers and non-time-sensitive land cruisers, but rather few people using it for 15- or 20-hour trips.
It might be possible that this would reduce freight interference too.

And those trip times seem painfully slow. Of course the schedule now is significantly slower than it was in the '70s IIRC.
Shockingly much slower... and it's not because the track has fallen into disuse.
Using trains for real transportation in Canada again may be a lost cause until they can get priority over freight again.
 
I sense some kind of consensus here that VIA ought to operate Toronto-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Calgary-Vancouver, Winnipeg-Edmonton-Vancouver, Regina-Saskatoon and Edmonton-Calgary at-least daily. Let's ignore Edmonton-Calgary for now, but as someone who has been lucky enough to get exposure to the constraints under which VIA operates, I would like to provide tables for three different passenger rail services (Toronto-SSM-Winnipeg, Winnipeg-Calgary-Vancouver and Winnipeg-Regina-Saskatoon-Edmonton-Vancouver):

Train A: Toronto-Sudbury-SSM-White River-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg
View attachment 32302

Train B: Winnipeg-Regina-Saskatoon-Edmonton-Jasper-Kamloops-Vancouver
View attachment 32303

Train C: Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary-Kamloops-Vancouver
View attachment 32304

If anyone is interested in developing their scenarios further, I'd invite them to propose their preferred departure times (preferably for all station highlighted in bold) and let's see where this takes us...
I like what you've done here. An observation - which I assume you were also making - was that the ideal timings at endpoints or key stops enroute don't always provide the most scenic experience and vice-versa. It's the balancing act between an "experiential" train and one that provides relevant transportation. That said, it would be fascinating to run various scenarios based on these charts IF the opportunity ever arose - which, as we both know, it won't. :(
 
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