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Restructuring Canadian Rail Service with existing equipment pools

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sttom

OBS Chief
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Jan 23, 2019
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I understand that the two "roomettes" are different. One advantage the older equipment had over the newer Amtrak equipment and even some of OBB's trains is that you can put a real mattress on the Murphy beds which is generally better than what Amtrak has. Given that Via trades more on their service being a "premium service" a real bed would be a bigger selling point than it would be for Amtrak. And its not like it would be less difficult for them to use Amtrak's designs since either way, the contractor would be starting from 0 unless CAF somehow got this proverbial contract from Via.

As for changing Via to be a more national system, assuming Canada's leaders would care to do that, I think its a good idea, but it should hinge on getting newer cars instead of trying to squeeze the last bits of life out of their existing equipment. Expanding services would also require a bigger federal commitment to trains which, as an outsider, it seems like Canadian politicians are way less train friendly than politicians in the US are. I also remember reading that one of the main differences between Amtrak and Via is that Via doesn't have an equivalent to section 403 in its enabling legislation, which is the part that allows the states to fund more services. Via would need clarity on that front to have a hope of starting new services with what comes off as a federal government that bounces around a spectrum of hostility.
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
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Dec 31, 2014
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South Carolina
The Budd sleepers have both sections and single person roomettes; an Amtrak style roomette is essentially a merger of the 2. I do agree that the mix of accommodations would tilt more in the direction of bedrooms than Amtrak's.
Fun fact the Heritage Roomette, and the Viewliner/Superliner Roomette are actually the same dimensions. The only difference is a heritage roomette is it seats/sleeps one. But both are 6'6" long and 3'6". I'm actually in the process of figuring out how to fit a second seat in a heritage roomette. That's going to be a lot of trial and error experimentation.

As for changing Via to be a more national system, assuming Canada's leaders would care to do that, I think its a good idea, but it should hinge on getting newer cars instead of trying to squeeze the last bits of life out of their existing equipment. Expanding services would also require a bigger federal commitment to trains which, as an outsider, it seems like Canadian politicians are way less train friendly than politicians in the US are. I also remember reading that one of the main differences between Amtrak and Via is that Via doesn't have an equivalent to section 403 in its enabling legislation, which is the part that allows the states to fund more services. Via would need clarity on that front to have a hope of starting new services with what comes off as a federal government that bounces around a spectrum of hostility.
I would make the argument the best way to get more federal money is to serve more Canadians. It's really the same argument we make with Amtrak in the USA. If Mr. Stephen Gardner and the board get their way and eliminate the national network trains but want to keep the NEC. Why should a state like Colorado or Nebraska fund a train they will never use, when it doesn't pose any local benefit. The argument in Canada is why should politicians from Calgary, or Regina, or any other western city support rail funding. It has no benefit to them. I would argue that the schedules VIA has now don't really provide good service to any other western districts because of the abysmal time keeping, and twice weekly service. Why should Alberta, or Saskatchewan tax dollars help pay for the VIA Corridor? They will never personally benefit from them.

My argument is the more VIA you have the higher chance you will have the support it needs to maintain national service. And until you have the support to buy new equipment the only alternative is to run the wheels off of the existing equipment. The good thing about Budds is they don't die, if you keep them current on regular repairs which in my proposal is the off season when the cars aren't nearly as utilized. Budds are fantastic cars.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
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Ithaca, NY
Now that I'm retired I try not to think of projects like working out meets! Four-car LRT trains were tricky enough. ;) Seriously, I understand your point. Is BNSF the only Class I that double-tracks long stretches to improve fluidity?
Yes. :-( Everyone else is obsessed with next quarter's financial statement, which means avoiding making any investments.
 

Urban Sky

Train Attendant
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Aug 23, 2018
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MTR
Thank you for that Jim. And every point you made is pretty much what my attempts were. But Now I'm going to address the concerns. I might argue I have a horse in a small town NE of Saskatoon at the moment.


As far as the Hudson Bay question how does VIA currently handle it? As I see how the operation runs right now from the outside that there are two consists that run on the Hudson Bay and that is very much how VIA handles the train. Every time I have passed the WMC when in Winnipeg there hasn't been any equipment visible.
I'll post this photo of the Winnipeg Maintenance Center (WMC) below, so that maybe someone else can suggest to you places where equipment could be hidden outside of your view:
1603936779829.png
Source: VIA Rail's Winnipeg Maintenance Centre Part 5


You can choose to believe someone who plans and deploys the non-Corridor fleet for a living that there are of course 3 consists in use on the Churchill service, or you can watch the Monday arrival of train #692 and compare the consist with that of the following day's departure of train #693.


And the fact that a late arriving train has turned as a late departing train in the past I find it hard to believe they aren't doing this operation.
What if I told you that equipment is only swapped once per week (i.e. the Sunday departure is usually the same consist as which arrived the previous afternoon/night)? Or that Locomotive Engineers have mandatory rest times between two shifts?


In theory you can get quite a few things done in a 20 hour turn around time.
Indeed, there are hundreds of things which can be done in 20 hours. However, there are three problems:

First, scheduled arrival or departure time at Winnipeg Station does not equal the time the train arrives or leaves WMC, so add 30 minutes for passengers to leave the train and on-train staff to offload supplies, an hour for the crews to wye (turn) the train and bring it to WMC and then the next morning 30 minutes to bring the (already turned train) to the station and an hour hour for on-train staff to load supplies and for passengers to board the train and your maintenance window shrinks from "20 hours" to 16:20 hours (i.e. from 18:15 to 10:35).

Second, scheduled arrival time of WMC does not equal actual arrival time at WMC, as this overview over the last few arrivals of #692 into WNPG highlights:
Third, it is impossible to have all parts which might break on a car in stock or to do major repairs like repairing (or replacing) a defect toilet or seat in a few hours, let alone: conduct periodical maintenance which requires the interiors of the cars to be removed. Therefore, you need at least one spare of every car type as a back-up for defects and another one for periodically inspections. This means that you are short two cars for each car types at WMC, which need to be available at WMC to perform long-term maintenance (or to compensate for any cars which require time-consuming repairs before they can be put back in service).


I'm looking at the Edmonton-Winnipeg (800.9 Miles) and Calgary-Winnipeg (831.6 Miles) now lets look at some Amtrak example routes. The Palmetto (830 Miles), and the Carolinian (704 Miles). Now you can make the argument that both of those trains take advantage of the NEC's 225 miles above 100 miles an hour. But I would argue that the average speed isn't much better than the diesel sections especially on the Palmetto which makes eight intermediate stops in that market. On average of once every thirty miles.
The fastest travel time from Edmonton to Winnipeg I found in any timetable was 15:00 hours (back in 1996). Even if you could somehow reliably obtain such a travel time, a departure time of 07:00 in Edmonton would yield an arrival time of 22:00, which unfortunately is 23:00 in local time. What kind of market are you trying to serve with such highly unattractive timings? To compare: the Palmetto has much more attractive travel times, at least between Savannah and Washington DC:
  • Train 89: dep. WAS 10:00 => arr. SAV 21:04
  • Train 90: dep. SAV 08:20 => arr. WAS 19:42


Now let's look at VIA's Western Route when I look at the timetable I see a large dwell time at Saskatoon which could easily be cut down, and some other spots where a large amount of fluff has been added to the timetables.
What if I told you that that dwell time is currently required as a buffer against delays or to go around the yard (if freight trains on the yard tracks block access to the station from one side) before or after the station stop?


Now if you could get CN to agree to reasonable timekeeping and restricting their train lengths so that everything fits in the sidings. Or better yet fully double tracking their route which it sorely needs you just need to average 50 miles an hour to make the run in 16 hours. And if I remember correctly speed in Canada is much higher than the arbitrary 79 mph we have in the USA. So if you could get a clean run at it I wouldn't be surprised if you could make it in 16 hours.
Maybe before you try to rein into how CN manages its networks, you should at least try to understand their business, which is not to move their freight as fast (and with as much operational flexibility) as possible, but to maximize the shareholder value (e.g. by minimizing operating and capital costs). This certainly sucks as a passenger railroad depending on infrastructure access, but if you want to dramatically improve the on-time performance of passenger rail service in Western Canada, I'm afraid you'll have to find more convincing reasons that doing so is also in the interest of CN...


Now lets turn to CP. You would have to average 51 miles an hour. Now their railroad is much more fluid than CN's. So it could potentially be done relatively easily. Remember part of the problem with CN is that the Chicago-Pacific Ports intermodal train run concurrent Jasper to Winnipeg. Whereas the ones on CP run to Moose Jaw. So you are fighting less traffic.
I can hardly think of a more fitting way to sum up how speculative and mindlessly optimistic this train of thought is than with the words "could potentially be done relatively easily"...


[post continues below, due to character limit]
 
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Urban Sky

Train Attendant
Joined
Aug 23, 2018
Messages
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Location
MTR
[continued from above]

Now lets turn and look at the third page of my report and look at VIA's current utilization rates specifically on the higher end.

[...]
I hate to say this, but you cannot expect to draw relevant conclusions from incorrect or unrealistic assumptions...


You should also note on page nine of my report I listed the equipment that VIA would need to acquire to be successful in this.

[...]
But where exactly is the market to purchase any of the cars you've listed in a serviceable (and presentable) condition and a configuration which allows interoperability with VIA's existing heritage fleet?


The LRC cars have recently been rebuilt I didn't initially want to use them either. But my good friend Jim has told me several have been rebuilt and they could provide good interim service while we look for more rolling stock, or order more.
You can tell your good friend Jim that your good friend John disagrees that there will be any lifespan left for the LRCs once they get finally replaced by the new Corridor fleet.


Note I only did the peak season consists on trains because I full well expect consists to shrink in the off peak times allowing a long maintenance period in the winter.
You can't schedule all time-consuming maintenance tasks into the winter, as you can't just defer them until you find yourself in a time of the year which happens to be more convenient for you...


I actually thought out every part of this proposal backwards and forwards from an operations stand point. I'm not an academic I've been on the ground in rail operations I have a firm grasp of the situation on the ground.
I'm not criticizing your analysis (or trying to doubt whatever foundations or experiences you claim to have acquired in the railroad industry), but it is unfortunately severely constrained by the inaccuracy (and striking over-optimism) of some of your assumptions...


That being said I also understand the academic arguments to argue them with those who are academics.
None of the arguments we've exchanged here so far was academic. Examples for statements shaped by academic arguments are:
  • "In order to be competitive against the airplane, a train needs to have a travel time of no less than 4 hours."
  • "In order for electrification to repay its capital costs through operating cost savings, you need to operate at least 4 trains per hour or trains at speeds of more than 100 mph."
  • ”The main competitor of conventional rail is the car, whereas the main competitor for HSR is the plane”
We really have yet to reach the point here where we could discuss academic arguments, as we are still trying to establish what the Status Quo is...


Anyways, have a good night and I’ll try to reply to your more recent comments over the weekend!
 
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sttom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
583
I would make the argument the best way to get more federal money is to serve more Canadians. It's really the same argument we make with Amtrak in the USA. If Mr. Stephen Gardner and the board get their way and eliminate the national network trains but want to keep the NEC. Why should a state like Colorado or Nebraska fund a train they will never use, when it doesn't pose any local benefit. The argument in Canada is why should politicians from Calgary, or Regina, or any other western city support rail funding. It has no benefit to them. I would argue that the schedules VIA has now don't really provide good service to any other western districts because of the abysmal time keeping, and twice weekly service. Why should Alberta, or Saskatchewan tax dollars help pay for the VIA Corridor? They will never personally benefit from them.
My question would be why would representatives from the provinces other than Quebec or Ontario vote to increase service with ancient cars that belong in a museum when the later 2 are getting shiny new equipment? It would be one thing if the other provinces were promised new service in conjunction with track improvements and a new fleet guaranteed, but using the existing fleet in the mean time. If you want to compare this to the US, I live in California, I would have no incentive to vote for a bill paying for new cars for the NEC when the rest of the country has to grovel for at best 25% of our orders funded by the federal government and our long distance trains being stuck with fairly old equipment. If you want something to be "national" some people in power are going to need to have equivalent service to the rest of the country to even be able to risk voting for something. And expanding service with old equipment and not promising them improvements and a new fleet would sink this plan.
 

neroden

Conductor
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Feb 23, 2014
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Ithaca, NY
Voting? Voting? Remember that VIA rail has no statutory basis -- there is no law passed by parliament making it exist. It exists based on an emergency order-in-council issued by a past prime minister. While this is legit, and there are still Royal Decrees from before the English Civil War which are considered good law in England, it's.... not exactly a rousing endorsement by the voters.

Canada's situation is very different from the US. First of all, there's no equivalent of the US Senate (the Canadian Senate is something different) -- and there are serious restrictions on gerrymandering -- so each person's vote is worth about the same no matter where they live.

When you look at Canada's population, it's Ontario, Quebec, and in a very distant third and fourth, British Columbia and Alberta. Ontario, Quebec, and BC account for fully 3/4 of the country's population, with Alberta being another 12%. The other provinces and territories have very small percentages of the country's population.

Canada's *entire* population is smaller than that of California.

The shrinking population of Atlantic Canada gives it little political power, the low population density has reduced train service demand, and as a result, frankly it hasn't been campaigning for train service. I think it would get it if it campaigned for it.

Manitoba and Saskatchwan are equally unpopulated and also don't campaign for train service. Manitoba's population is 1/3 of Iowa's population, though twice that of North Dakota. Iowa has a stronger lobby for train service than Manitoba, and this shouldn't be surprising.

BC does campaign for train service. But mostly it's looking inward, or towards the US, not towards Alberta. Ontario and Quebec also campaign for train service, and having large populations, they actually get train service. As they should. But not nearly enough.

Theoretically Alberta is populous enough to want train service, and they have local rail in Edmonton and Calgary. But despite a couple of campaigns they haven't managed to get a rail line between the two cities, which is the obviously-most-useful intercity line there, so I don't expect much from them. Maybe the politics there will change as the oil bust takes hold.

 

Willbridge

OBS Chief
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
573
Location
Denver
Voting? Voting? Remember that VIA rail has no statutory basis -- there is no law passed by parliament making it exist. It exists based on an emergency order-in-council issued by a past prime minister. While this is legit, and there are still Royal Decrees from before the English Civil War which are considered good law in England, it's.... not exactly a rousing endorsement by the voters.

Canada's situation is very different from the US. First of all, there's no equivalent of the US Senate (the Canadian Senate is something different) -- and there are serious restrictions on gerrymandering -- so each person's vote is worth about the same no matter where they live.

When you look at Canada's population, it's Ontario, Quebec, and in a very distant third and fourth, British Columbia and Alberta. Ontario, Quebec, and BC account for fully 3/4 of the country's population, with Alberta being another 12%. The other provinces and territories have very small percentages of the country's population.

Canada's *entire* population is smaller than that of California.

The shrinking population of Atlantic Canada gives it little political power, the low population density has reduced train service demand, and as a result, frankly it hasn't been campaigning for train service. I think it would get it if it campaigned for it.

Manitoba and Saskatchwan are equally unpopulated and also don't campaign for train service. Manitoba's population is 1/3 of Iowa's population, though twice that of North Dakota. Iowa has a stronger lobby for train service than Manitoba, and this shouldn't be surprising.

BC does campaign for train service. But mostly it's looking inward, or towards the US, not towards Alberta. Ontario and Quebec also campaign for train service, and having large populations, they actually get train service. As they should. But not nearly enough.

Theoretically Alberta is populous enough to want train service, and they have local rail in Edmonton and Calgary. But despite a couple of campaigns they haven't managed to get a rail line between the two cities, which is the obviously-most-useful intercity line there, so I don't expect much from them. Maybe the politics there will change as the oil bust takes hold.

That's a good summary. Americans tend to assume that Canada works about the same way as the U.S. Sometimes the results are the same but are reached by a different path. I was involved in fighting the Pepin cutbacks in 1981 and I read the minutes of the Senate debate on it. The Liberal senator from Rive Gauche stood up and eloquently attacked the deletion of the M&O line through his community and then voted to support the cutbacks.

When the Edmonton-Calgary corridor service was up for discontinuance there was a hint that the CTC might rule in our favor. So, BEFORE THEY COULD RULE, the Conservative Transport Minister (a Vegreville, Alberta car dealer) ordered the service discontinued.

Pro-rail passenger MP David Kilgour (Edmonton-Strathcona) theorized that some of the problem came in the Prime Minister's Office. For American readers, it's the equivalent of the OMB on steroids. That helps to understand why whichever party is in power in Ottawa the result for VIA is the same. That especially explains the failure to pass a VIA Rail Act. As Americans have learned, an unrestrained executive branch wants to stay unrestrained.

As for provincial funding we in Alberta were concerned about a lack of transparency and consistency at VIA. American states have some aspects of Amtrak nailed down by legislation. Contracting for service with VIA would be like nailing Jello to a wall. Either the Alberta contribution would be for infrastructure that would remain in the province or follow the Northern Ontario approach and set up our own service.
 

sttom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
583
Canada could pass their own Rail Passenger Service Act if they wanted to, the problem is our Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 wouldn't promise a larger system should the Canadian Parliament pass it with the Canada appropriate edits. One of my biggest gripes with the Act we created Amtrak with was that it had mandates for a "balanced transportation system" and a "national network" but doesn't define what that means in terms of service levels or funding. If Canada passed a comparable act, the most it would do is allow the provinces to sponsor services and give Parliament more oversight. Oversight is a good thing, but its not the same as mandating service levels and appropriate funding. There is a reason why passenger rail was cut more than in half when Amtrak took over. There were over 400 trains per day in the US and it was cut to around 180 on May 1, 1971. The Act didn't mandate anything such as maintaining the same number of connections between cities, studying if basing the system around service levels in any preceding year would make for a "more balanced system" in the early days of Amtrak or what would constitute a national network. All of this was left on the Department of Transportation and is part of the reason why Amtrak is in the state it is today. Considering how much service was lost when Amtrak was created, even with Via's pathetic levels of service, it could be argued that it would meet the mandate of a "national system" despite it not being particularly useful.
 
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