The Evolution of VIA Rail - a graphical history

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jiml

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For those with an interest on how VIA Rail's route structure has evolved since its inception, here are a couple of well-done map videos explaining the timeline. They are fairly accurate and will show those who didn't have to endure the cuts how we got where we are. The creator also has a wide range of other historical transportation videos that are worth checking out.

Main network:


Eastern Canada:


Western Canada:

 

neroden

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Good history. It seems clear that the 1990 cuts, under right-winger Brian Mulroney, were the most brutal, hostile anti-passenger cuts in Canada's history. They specifically ripped the heart out of the system; most of the previous, and most of the subsequent, cuts had been to weaker branch lines or related to damaged track or bridges (with some exceptions) -- while the Mulroney axe wrecked all service to any province other than Ontario and Quebec. And Ontario and Quebec were really only preserved by provincial takeover of a lot of the services. It really looks like an attempt to kill the system entirely.

In North America, only Mexico's destruction of its entire passenger train network under President Zedillo is worse. US cuts were bad, but never this bad.

It's particularly notable that these attacks were done during the time when passenger rail demand was starting a long, and sustained, upturn; rail demand rose continuously, and quickly, during the 1990s. I consider the Mulroney cuts to be sabotage.

Amtrak took advantage of the rising demand despite attacks from some sectors of government and the moronic "Mercer Consulting cuts" of 1996 which were reversed within a year. VIA couldn't, because Mulroney had sabotaged VIA.

Zedillo was President of Mexico in 1995; his sabotage of the Mexican system also stuck.

So there were concerted sabotage attempts against the passenger rail systems in Canada, the US, and Mexico all at around the same time. We were lucky to have Clinton as President when the sabotage attempt against Amtrak came; it got reversed as a result. Mexico and Canada were not so lucky.
 
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jiml

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More recent history tends to overwrite what happened before. While the Mulroney cuts were bad, the ones 10 years prior under the current PM's daddy were worse in actual quantity. Per Wikipedia:

In 1981, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government endorsed Minister of Transport Jean-Luc Pépin's plan which slash Via's budget, leading to a 40 percent reduction in the company's operations.

So to paraphrase, the company was already 40% smaller when attacked by the Mulroney government as you described, making the proportional cut "less of the whole", if that makes sense. As a VIA supporter and historian, I find both equally distasteful and the lesson learned is that public funding for passenger rail does not advance nor decline solely on the political leanings of the government in power. There's a little wishful thinking in connecting leftist politics funding passenger rail and right-wing politics with its demise. Like most people familiar with Amtrak, I'm optimistic that "Amtrak Joe" will do what he can for its future. Do other Democrat politicians feel similarly? Don't be too sure. When funds are short for any government, passenger rail is an easy target.
 

Siegmund

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I too rate the 1981 cuts as deeper than 1990, in terms of how much service was lost.

The difference was that there was enough of an outcry after the 1981 cuts that a good portion of the lost service had been restored by 1985 or so. Ironically, some of the restoration a campaign promise by first-term Mulroney . In 1990 there was no compromising afterward, just squeezing VIA's neck tighter and tighter. Does that mean that 1990 cut it below critical mass? Or that 1981 hurt it badly enough that there was already no critical mass of riders and lobbyists to resist the 1990 cuts or do anything about it afterward?
 

railiner

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Great video's. Wish someone with the talent would do a similar one on Amtrak, from the day before it started, until today...
 

PaTrainFan

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Great video's. Wish someone with the talent would do a similar one on Amtrak, from the day before it started, until today...
He very well may at some point. He's run out of Canadian cities to feature and recently did one on Pittsburgh's Port Authority. All of his videos are well done.
 

neroden

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I too rate the 1981 cuts as deeper than 1990, in terms of how much service was lost.

The difference was that there was enough of an outcry after the 1981 cuts that a good portion of the lost service had been restored by 1985 or so.
Yes, the difference here is notable. Not only did much of it come back, other parts were taken over by GO Transit.

Also, when I look at the pre-1981 network... I really wonder how some of those ultra-remote lines had survived until 1981. Train service thrives on volume (lots of passengers), and some of these lines just didn't have the population for it. I have to suspect that most of the branch lines in Manitoba which weren't daily in 1978 would have survived under *any* circumstances. Similarly, there hasn't been much outcry to restore the northern Quebec routes cut in 1981. Of the 1981 cuts, we all want service along both the CN and CP mainlines, and service to Havelock and on the north shore from Ottawa to Montreal, but a lot of the rest of the cuts? Nobody seems to care any more, probably because there are so few people in the places which lost service.

Ironically, some of the restoration a campaign promise by first-term Mulroney . In 1990 there was no compromising afterward, just squeezing VIA's neck tighter and tighter. Does that mean that 1990 cut it below critical mass? Or that 1981 hurt it badly enough that there was already no critical mass of riders and lobbyists to resist the 1990 cuts or do anything about it afterward?
There was definitely public outcry about the 1990 cuts; I remember it in the newspapers even in upstate NY. It didn't manage to attract support from enough politicians, however; there was a cross-party consensus on not caring about VIA's survival, from what I can tell.
 

jiml

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Yes, the difference here is notable. Not only did much of it come back, other parts were taken over by GO Transit.

Also, when I look at the pre-1981 network... I really wonder how some of those ultra-remote lines had survived until 1981. Train service thrives on volume (lots of passengers), and some of these lines just didn't have the population for it. I have to suspect that most of the branch lines in Manitoba which weren't daily in 1978 would have survived under *any* circumstances. Similarly, there hasn't been much outcry to restore the northern Quebec routes cut in 1981. Of the 1981 cuts, we all want service along both the CN and CP mainlines, and service to Havelock and on the north shore from Ottawa to Montreal, but a lot of the rest of the cuts? Nobody seems to care any more, probably because there are so few people in the places which lost service.



There was definitely public outcry about the 1990 cuts; I remember it in the newspapers even in upstate NY. It didn't manage to attract support from enough politicians, however; there was a cross-party consensus on not caring about VIA's survival, from what I can tell.
I think there's a market for some of the services you've mentioned, but let's not forget VIA suffers from the Amtrak problem of little spare equipment. "North Shore" service in Quebec, especially east of Montreal, should definitely have a future - there was even a private company running ex-German commuter trains on trackage east of Quebec City pre-pandemic. I'd been looking forward to riding it last year, but now wonder if they'll be able to come back. The previous federal government had also talked about funding the train to Havelock - more importantly to the larger communities enroute. Not sure whether it would have been through VIA or through GO, but unfortunately its biggest sponsor (the finance minister at the time) passed away and the idea more or less with him. I lived near the route at the time and local support was high.
 

fdaley

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The difference was that there was enough of an outcry after the 1981 cuts that a good portion of the lost service had been restored by 1985 or so. Ironically, some of the restoration a campaign promise by first-term Mulroney . In 1990 there was no compromising afterward, just squeezing VIA's neck tighter and tighter. Does that mean that 1990 cut it below critical mass? Or that 1981 hurt it badly enough that there was already no critical mass of riders and lobbyists to resist the 1990 cuts or do anything about it afterward?
This is what I remember. The Mulroney government got elected the first time in part on a promise to restore some of the routes that were cut in 1981. So by the summer of '85, the Atlantic and Supercontinental (west of Winnipeg, anyway) were up and running again, along with local services to Edmundston, Sherbrooke and elsewhere. Then the same government, after winning a second mandate, completely gutted the system in 1990. And no amount of public outcry -- and there was a lot -- could dissuade them. Mulroney left office with terrible public opinion ratings, though it wasn't only because of this.

The thing that still gets me is that, although there were some remote services that carried very few riders, a lot of the local trains that were eliminated were very heavily used. The Sydney and Yarmouth trains, when I rode them, were packed. And both of the transcon routes out of Vancouver ran daily and were well used.
 

Amtrakfflyer

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Sounds Trumpian, thankfully whoever wrote his rail plan didn’t succeed in anything except gutting food service.

QUOTE="fdaley, post: 881009, member: 17674"]
This is what I remember. The Mulroney government got elected the first time in part on a promise to restore some of the routes that were cut in 1981. So by the summer of '85, the Atlantic and Supercontinental (west of Winnipeg, anyway) were up and running again, along with local services to Edmundston, Sherbrooke and elsewhere. Then the same government, after winning a second mandate, completely gutted the system in 1990. And no amount of public outcry -- and there was a lot -- could dissuade them. Mulroney left office with terrible public opinion ratings, though it wasn't only because of this.

The thing that still gets me is that, although there were some remote services that carried very few riders, a lot of the local trains that were eliminated were very heavily used. The Sydney and Yarmouth trains, when I rode them, were packed. And both of the transcon routes out of Vancouver ran daily and were well used.
[/QUOTE]
 

Seaboard92

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As I have posted before on this forum there is a way to get far better service in Canada using the existing rolling stock. The issue is you need to be creative about it. And the number one problem that VIA has is they run the Canadian way too long. The Canadian takes three sets which have the following equipment.

-6 Locomotives
-3 Baggage
-6-9 HP1 Coaches
-6 Diners
-9 Skyline Cars
-36 Manor Cars
-3 Regular Chateau
-6 Prestige Chateau
-3 Prestige Park Car

There is no reason you couldn't split that nonsense up and increase service back to daily, or start up some service over the CP route. Look at Amtrak the most popular tourist train the California Zephyr only runs with 3.5 Sleepers every day. The Empire Builder 2.

Imagine if you were to cut down the consist down you could increase service back. The problem is no one is thinking critically about it and it shows. An American shouldn't be the one telling VIA Rail how to better service the west and the maritimes.
 

Urban Sky

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An American shouldn't be the one telling VIA Rail how to better service the west and the maritimes.
Just because you ignored almost every single constraint VIA faces (fleet, funding, mandate, infrastructure access, punctuality, line speeds, slots, operational priority, etc.), doesn’t mean that you solved any of the challenges which have for the last 3 decades (if not longer!) prevented us Canadians from having a meaningful intercity passenger rail service outside the Corridor...
 
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Willbridge

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This is what I remember. The Mulroney government got elected the first time in part on a promise to restore some of the routes that were cut in 1981. So by the summer of '85, the Atlantic and Supercontinental (west of Winnipeg, anyway) were up and running again, along with local services to Edmundston, Sherbrooke and elsewhere. Then the same government, after winning a second mandate, completely gutted the system in 1990. And no amount of public outcry -- and there was a lot -- could dissuade them. Mulroney left office with terrible public opinion ratings, though it wasn't only because of this.

The thing that still gets me is that, although there were some remote services that carried very few riders, a lot of the local trains that were eliminated were very heavily used. The Sydney and Yarmouth trains, when I rode them, were packed. And both of the transcon routes out of Vancouver ran daily and were well used.
The 1981 cuts, which I experienced while working for the City of Edmonton, provided a valuable lesson on what happens when a successful long-distance route is chopped into corridors requiring overnight layovers. The damage was gradually repaired but not enough to avoid being set up for the next round of cuts.

MP David Kilgour told the Mulroney team that they were going to lose western seats on this and other insensitive actions and he was kicked out of the PC caucus.
 

jiml

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MP David Kilgour told the Mulroney team that they were going to lose western seats on this and other insensitive actions and he was kicked out of the PC caucus.
Mulroney was an Easterner who cared little about the West. Ironically we're in a similar situation right now with a government that wins most everything east of the Manitoba border facing the PC's, who also have an Eastern leader focused mainly on taking their votes away. Both sides are taking the West for granted - one side that knows they can't win there and the other assuming that they will. It's kind of the perfect storm for the rise of Western separatism.
 

neroden

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This is what I remember. The Mulroney government got elected the first time in part on a promise to restore some of the routes that were cut in 1981. So by the summer of '85, the Atlantic and Supercontinental (west of Winnipeg, anyway) were up and running again, along with local services to Edmundston, Sherbrooke and elsewhere. Then the same government, after winning a second mandate, completely gutted the system in 1990. And no amount of public outcry -- and there was a lot -- could dissuade them. Mulroney left office with terrible public opinion ratings, though it wasn't only because of this.

The thing that still gets me is that, although there were some remote services that carried very few riders, a lot of the local trains that were eliminated were very heavily used. The Sydney and Yarmouth trains, when I rode them, were packed. And both of the transcon routes out of Vancouver ran daily and were well used.
Yes, the Nova Scotia cuts were a blatant attack on heavily-used services. The Maritimes were really very badly shafted in 1990. And cutting the two transcons to one was also a straight out attack on rail service, particularly for Alberta.
 

NS VIA Fan

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Yes, the Nova Scotia cuts were a blatant attack on heavily-used services. The Maritimes were really very badly shafted in 1990. .....
That was 30 years ago and would those trains have lasted until today? Probably not. There has been a lot of highway twinning and freeway construction in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since then. And don't say that highway money should have been put into rail. There is just not the population here along a couple of 'corridors' to justify the cost to provide a fast, frequent passenger rail service that might actually get people out of their cars. The new highways provide a much greater benefit to more of the population than could be served by rail.

I used to ride the Sydney-Halifax trains. (I live about the mid point on this route) Most of the passengers changed to the Atlantic/Ocean at Truro for Montreal and onto Toronto and Ottawa. Few used it as an intercity service to/fr Halifax. Even back then I could drive to Halifax (130 miles) a hour faster than the train could get me there and without frequent trains....it wasn't practical for a day trip.

Today (Covid aside!!) there's a lot of flights now that didn't exist when the VIA service ended that will get you to Toronto a lot cheaper....and in 2 hrs vs 30 hrs for the train.
 
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neroden

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I'll say it: the highway money shouldn't have been spent. What has it gotten the Maritimes? Economic decline, that's what it's gotten them, just as big highway spending has everywhere else. If your population is so thinly spread that you don't have the volume for rail, you don't have enough economic activity to afford freeways either, unless people are just driving past you -- which isn't good for your economy either -- and the Maritimes aren't on the way to anywhere. (In fact, Nova Scotia has very high population density. Probably mostly in Halifax.) Freeways are a convenience for rural people, but they're basically an economic drain for them.

Is it a coincidence that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick population flatlined right around the time the trains were removed, after growing pretty fast before that? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the connectivity to Montreal mattered.

Demand for train service has been on a straight upswing since 1990. Worldwide. Would those trains have lasted to today? Yes. Maybe because everyone was connecting to the train to Montreal -- but branch lines *matter*! The loss of the fast route from Nova Scotia to Montreal via Maine and the downgrading of the Ocean to less-than-daily were certainly worse than the loss of the branch lines -- but they all happened in quick succession.

Going from two trunk lines and several branch lines to one three-a-week service is devastating.
 
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NS VIA Fan

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I'll say it: the highway money shouldn't have been spent. What has it gotten the Maritimes? Economic decline, that's what it's gotten them, just as big highway spending has everywhere else.
I drive those highways every day. You don't!......and they are needed. They provide a much greater benefit to more of the population than could ever be served by rail. There is just not the population here along a couple of 'corridors' to justify the cost to provide a fast, frequent passenger rail service that might actually get people out of their cars.

The only route that might have justified an intercity rail service is Halifax-Moncton-Saint John but even then without a large expenditure on rail upgrades to increase speeds.....it's going to take over 6 hrs. I can drive it in 4 hrs.
 

NS VIA Fan

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Not that the Maritime highway infrastructure is particularly robust either.

On the contrary! All the major routes where the vehicle counts require it are at least 4 lane-divided or upgraded 'Super-2'. In particular the 520km Trans-Canada through New Brunswick along with the NB95 connection to I95 at the US Border is certainly built to 'Interstate' standards and a real pleasure to drive.

Even in Newfoundland...the TCH is 4-lane where required. Below....in the Humber River Gorge near Corner Brook the TCH is built on the road bed of the old CN narrow-gauge railway that never had any potential for upgrading to a viable passenger rail route: A 22 hr train ride vs a 9 hr 900 km drive.

IMG_0097.JPG
 

jiml

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On the contrary! All the major routes where the vehicle counts require it are at least 4 lane-divided or upgraded 'Super-2'. In particular the 520km Trans-Canada through New Brunswick along with the NB95 connection to I95 at the US Border is certainly built to 'Interstate' standards and a real pleasure to drive.

Even in Newfoundland...the TCH is 4-lane where required. Below....in the Humber River Gorge near Corner Brook the TCH is built on the road bed of the old CN narrow-gauge railway that never had any potential for upgrading to a viable passenger rail route: A 22 hr train ride vs a 9 hr 900 km drive.

View attachment 21423
I have relatives in NB who would vigorously disagree with you, but haven't driven that way myself in several years so have no recent first-hand experience. You see there used to be this train that stopped in Moncton... ;)
74214611_2485312164837192_6452507313570840576_n.jpg
 

NS VIA Fan

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I have relatives in NB who would vigorously disagree with you, but haven't driven that way myself in several years so have no recent first-hand experience. You see there used to be this train that stopped in Moncton... ;)
Yes.....everyone feels they should have a 4 lane highway right to their driveway.....and 'that train' is not running currently for a very good reason!
 
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