The Evolution of VIA Rail - a graphical history

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Seaboard92

Engineer
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I will never understand why so-called “rail enthusiasts” refuse to understand that Corridor services are what keeps VIA afloat rather than draining its resources. Therefore, the relative success of the Corridor services is the only thing which keeps your dreams for drastically improved rail service outside the Corridor alive...
I personally find that remark quite offensive. Unlike the vast majority on this board I have done more physical work in the industry than most. I have crawled under the cars and taken the brake valves, cylinders, hoses, and other appliances off and replaced them with refreshed items. I've been all over the roof of cars patching and fixing leaks. I've also pulled marathon OBS shifts that have ran from 4 AM to 12 AM in a twin unit diner serving over 1,000 meals in a day. I've also made the bunks up, loaded the supplies, gathered the trash, and done basically every mission critical job other than operate the locomotive. And if given the training and license I'm sure I could learn that skill set. Now if you want to experience what brake work is call me in four years I have a set of 26C valves to do then and I'm happy to teach. After all I was taught how to do things the military way from my father "watch one, do one, teach one".

And unlike most of the "rail enthusiasts" I have a 4.0 GPA in political science and understand how public services are supposed to operate. The problem that I see with VIA is you have 2 provinces that get frequent and great service while the other 6 provinces VIA services are lucky to get a train every other day. If you continue to neglect these other 6 provinces eventually those people and their politicians can't be counted to vote for continued funding for VIA. So yes most of their revenue comes from the corridor I won't disagree with you there and I knew that before your fancy chart.

But you have to see where I'm coming from that there is a lot of political clout in these outlying provinces that could very easily be won over to VIA's camp as opposed to where they are which is a bit ambivalent as it stands. How can we say VIA services Saskatewan, or Alberta well? What about British Columbia? Yes the population is not nearly as dense but it doesn't mean these people don't matter.

No form of transportation exists without some form of a subsidy. Busses and cars drive on public roads, airlines fly into public airports, and ferry service exists because governments fund it's continued existence. Trains are no different they were subsidized too even in the 1950s under CN and CP Management. The difference was up until the 1960s and 70s the ridership was high enough that it was basically breaking even. Railroads operated these trains because it was a public service, part of their government charter, and as a way to market their freight service and real estate arms. It was once the ridership started tanking that the losses started to become untenable in the old format.

So does a service between St. John and Halifax have to make a profit. No it doesn't because that's not the mission. The mission is to be a public service and recover as much of the loss as possible in revenue. But it's still supposed to be subsidized.

I love VIA and I understand her unique issues but you really need the rural support if you want to maintain the network in it's current form. VIA still has good ridership on the Ocean all things considered. The Canadian unfortunately has morphed into a tourist train which is only going to hurt it because it's use as a usable mode of transportation has waned. That is partially due to the crappy schedule you can't really expect ridership if your running two days a week east of Edmonton. And with that it makes the argument really hard to keep the service if politicians are looking for something to cut.

To make the Canadian a better service just cut some of the sleeper lines off the train does one trainset really need 12 sleeper lines. You could cut the number of sleepers per set which also limits the amount of diners and skylines you need and get up to daily service. CN would cause some problems but again VIA needs the support in the federal government to force the issue preferably getting the same treatment and statutory power that Amtrak has. But to get that you need to win over parliament and you will need as many as you can get which means you need those rural areas.

In the western world we look at things differently we think everything needs to make a profit when in reality the place of a government run service is to run a good service.
 

GoAmtrak

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 4, 2021
Messages
57
Location
Switzerland
The videos are quite interesting, something I was looking for.

I'm quite interested in change and development of passenger rail in North America in general.
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.
I tried to jump into detail a little bit and I realized there were just very minor expansions of railway lines in Canada for the past 30 (!) years. The horrible service cuts of about 55% on Via Rail in 1990 heavily influenced this sharp decline.

And the decline continues, with the abandon of about half a dozen of passenger services well into the 21st century. There were cuts of passenger rail services of relatively long distances (Courtenay BC - Victoria BC, Cochrane ON - Washago ON , Matapédia QC - Gaspé QC) as well as of short distances (Sarnia ON - Port Huron MI, Hudson QC - Rigaud QC, among others) even since 2004.

Re-opening of old or new lines for passenger railway? Quite hard to find! I didn't find a single line being operated by Via Rail which serves a line not already being served before 1990. There were those brutal service cuts and since then it seems no single mile of expansion has been made on the Via Rail network (improve frequency on existing lines is nice, but that's not the focus here). I looked more into details and I discovered some expansions in the last 30 years which were of minor nature, all executed by Go (Toronto) and Exo (Montréal). Sometimes the expansion was of just 2 miles :D ! If expansion continues at this pace, we'll wait for another 50 years for any large expansion.

In the US in contrast, I noticed some minor improvements in the 30 years, and not that much service cuts and abandon like in Canada. Even if we take only the last 15 years, I have the impression there is more decline on the side of Canadian passenger railway than on the US side.

I also ask myself which passenger railway system is worse (also taking population density into account): Passenger railway in Canada or the US? Currently, I'm tending towards the Canadian passenger railway services being weaker than their US counterparts, but I'm not sure because of the higher population density in the US. I'm interest in discussion this! What do others think about it?

Neroden rightly mentioned Mexico here which perhaps has one of the worst passenger railway systems in the World regarding its population. The Canadian passenger railway network is not that bad as that in Mexico, but I also doubt it's better than the US system.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,481
Location
Denver
The videos are quite interesting, something I was looking for.

I'm quite interested in change and development of passenger rail in North America in general.

I tried to jump into detail a little bit and I realized there were just very minor expansions of railway lines in Canada for the past 30 (!) years. The horrible service cuts of about 55% on Via Rail in 1990 heavily influenced this sharp decline.

And the decline continues, with the abandon of about half a dozen of passenger services well into the 21st century. There were cuts of passenger rail services of relatively long distances (Courtenay BC - Victoria BC, Cochrane ON - Washago ON , Matapédia QC - Gaspé QC) as well as of short distances (Sarnia ON - Port Huron MI, Hudson QC - Rigaud QC, among others) even since 2004.

Re-opening of old or new lines for passenger railway? Quite hard to find! I didn't find a single line being operated by Via Rail which serves a line not already being served before 1990. There were those brutal service cuts and since then it seems no single mile of expansion has been made on the Via Rail network (improve frequency on existing lines is nice, but that's not the focus here). I looked more into details and I discovered some expansions in the last 30 years which were of minor nature, all executed by Go (Toronto) and Exo (Montréal). Sometimes the expansion was of just 2 miles :D ! If expansion continues at this pace, we'll wait for another 50 years for any large expansion.

In the US in contrast, I noticed some minor improvements in the 30 years, and not that much service cuts and abandon like in Canada. Even if we take only the last 15 years, I have the impression there is more decline on the side of Canadian passenger railway than on the US side.

I also ask myself which passenger railway system is worse (also taking population density into account): Passenger railway in Canada or the US? Currently, I'm tending towards the Canadian passenger railway services being weaker than their US counterparts, but I'm not sure because of the higher population density in the US. I'm interest in discussion this! What do others think about it?

Neroden rightly mentioned Mexico here which perhaps has one of the worst passenger railway systems in the World regarding its population. The Canadian passenger railway network is not that bad as that in Mexico, but I also doubt it's better than the US system.
There were other mass cutbacks in Canada before 1990, most notably in 1981. Prior to that the regulatory process dealt with routes or regions more than the whole system. For example, the CP and CN RDC runs in the Prairie provinces took big hits in or just after 1971.

There were interesting changes in the process used for the cutbacks. In 1981 the federal government just ordered the cutbacks. However, the Edmonton<>Calgary corridor service had been put before the CTC (Canadian Transport Commission) prior to the 1981 package and so it continued as a conventional "train-off" case. Transport 2000 Alberta was able to cross-examine rail executives under the rules at that time. It was a remarkable experience for all concerned. My understanding is that after that it never has been permitted since.

After the hearings and before the CTC could rule, the Minister of Transport (a Vegreville auto dealer) ordered the service discontinued on safety grounds. At that point it became clear that Ottawa would use any method to rid itself of the passenger train problem. Little has happened since to controvert that.
 
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There were other mass cutbacks in Canada before 1990, most notably in 1981. Prior to that the regulatory process dealt with routes or regions more than the whole system. For example, the CP and CN RDC runs in the Prairie provinces took big hits in or just after 1971.

There were interesting changes in the process used for the cutbacks. In 1981 the federal government just ordered the cutbacks. However, the Edmonton<>Calgary corridor service had been put before the CTC (Canadian Transport Commission) prior to the 1981 package and so it continued as a conventional "train-off" case. Transport 2000 Alberta was able to cross-examine rail executives under the rules at that time. It was a remarkable experience for all concerned. My understanding is that after that it never has been permitted since.

After the hearings and before the CTC could rule, the Minister of Transport (a Vegreville auto dealer) ordered the service discontinued on safety grounds. At that point it became clear that Ottawa would use any method to rid itself of the passenger train problem. Little has happened since to controvert that.
Unfortunately the VIA '81 cuts get lost in the same recency bias as Amtrak's "Carter cuts". People also tend to assume that left-leaning governments don't cut public transportation whereas right-leaning ones do. In truth it's actually been fairly balanced on both sides of the border during the history of both agencies.
 

neroden

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The 1981 VIA rail cuts were, to be fair, during a period of dropping rail demand. The Carter cuts during a sort of flatlined period. This is why I tend to consider the 1990s cuts significantly more heinous, as they were during a period of documented sharply-rising rail demand. They really felt like a last-ditch effort to kill the passenger railroads before they became too popular to kill. Though I hadn't realized that it was coordinated between the US, Mexico, and Canada until I wrote my previous comment.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
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Messages
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Denver
The 1981 VIA rail cuts were, to be fair, during a period of dropping rail demand. The Carter cuts during a sort of flatlined period. This is why I tend to consider the 1990s cuts significantly more heinous, as they were during a period of documented sharply-rising rail demand. They really felt like a last-ditch effort to kill the passenger railroads before they became too popular to kill. Though I hadn't realized that it was coordinated between the US, Mexico, and Canada until I wrote my previous comment.
The reason that the 81 cuts were important is that the network was screwed up by the cuts and they couldn't say that. Instead, changes were made step by step later on, but a lot of customers were turned off in the meantime. Elsewhere I've explained how the transcon passengers arrived at South Edmonton and their baggage arrived later at the CN Tower Station, as just one example.

I'm not certain that demand was dropping on some routes. When we rode the real Canadian in 1979, VIA had rented extra space in Calgary because the modern CP Rail station was over-flowing. And Super Continental consists held up till '81 when the consist went from scenes like these to a 3x car Railiner with a snack bar. Thanks to reservation requirements the ridership dropped accordingly.

VIATr4EDM14AUG78cmrpic.jpg

Rynerson1978-06-13.jpg

EdmontonJan1973-10.jpg
 

neroden

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Ithaca, NY
Buses can’t run to places like Churchill and that’s why the federal government is going to stay in the non-Commuter passenger rail business. However, in the Corridor, the justification for running services in parallel to highways and privately operated bus services is simple: because they generate approximately 30% more revenues than what they cause in direct operating costs. In 2018, they contributed $77 million towards VIA’s overheads (like, for instance, my own salary), while non-Corridor services a negative contribution of $37.8 million ($6.5 million for the Canadian, $11.3 million for the Ocean and $20 million for the regional services to remote areas):


For sources and explanations, click here.

Unlike the fully allocated figures (which spread VIA’s overheads across the entire network), looking at the contribution (i.e. direct revenues minus direct costs) gives you an indication whether running more trains will decrease or increase VIA’s subsidy need. Therefore, the only viable strategy to reduce VIA’s subsidy need is to outgrow it in the Corridor and VIA’s exceptional performance between 2014 and 2019 is testament that running more Corridor services increases revenues much faster than costs:
Note: re-post from Urban Toronto (VIA Rail’s 2019 Annual Report has been published in the meanwhile, with even stronger figures)


I will never understand why so-called “rail enthusiasts” refuse to understand that Corridor services are what keeps VIA afloat rather than draining its resources. Therefore, the relative success of the Corridor services is the only thing which keeps your dreams for drastically improved rail service outside the Corridor alive...
I am just noticing this and must remark that Via actually publishes its contribution figures, unlike Amtrak which tries to conceal them. (This is generally surmised to be because publishing the contribution figures would show that most of Amtrak's so-called long distance trains make positive contributions.)

I do question whether the Ocean and Canadian would have higher contributions if run daily, however. Trains usually do.
 

Urban Sky

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Aug 23, 2018
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MTR
I am just noticing this and must remark that Via actually publishes its contribution figures, unlike Amtrak which tries to conceal them. (This is generally surmised to be because publishing the contribution figures would show that most of Amtrak's so-called long distance trains make positive contributions.)
Indeed, I’m not aware of any other railroads publishing that kind of Management Accounting figures, which would allow to estimate whether a service increase would let revenues rise faster than costs or not…

I do question whether the Ocean and Canadian would have higher contributions if run daily, however. Trains usually do.
I highly doubt it: in peak season, almost all available revenue cars (Sleepers and seats) are already assigned and sold out regularly, which suggests that it is close to impossible to rise revenues in line with costs, given that they are to a large part proportional to train-miles. Add to that that Tourists (i.e. the one customer segment which keeps VIA’s transcontinental services alive) are not that much bothered by service frequency - especially those which are retired - and I don’t see any chance of generating incremental revenues which are remotely as high as the incremental costs of, for instance, daily service…
 

neroden

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There are significant economies of scale even in the variable costs from running daily, primarily in layover time for crew (which is excessive on less than daily schedules). While the Canadian sells out routinely, the Ocean does not so often and daily service quite likely would see outsized increases in ridership sufficient to generate economies of scale from more passengers per train. Unless more cars are available it is a moot point though; it can't be done without more cars.
 

Gary Behling

Train Attendant
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Mar 28, 2019
Messages
72
I personally find that remark quite offensive. Unlike the vast majority on this board I have done more physical work in the industry than most. I have crawled under the cars and taken the brake valves, cylinders, hoses, and other appliances off and replaced them with refreshed items. I've been all over the roof of cars patching and fixing leaks. I've also pulled marathon OBS shifts that have ran from 4 AM to 12 AM in a twin unit diner serving over 1,000 meals in a day. I've also made the bunks up, loaded the supplies, gathered the trash, and done basically every mission critical job other than operate the locomotive. And if given the training and license I'm sure I could learn that skill set. Now if you want to experience what brake work is call me in four years I have a set of 26C valves to do then and I'm happy to teach. After all I was taught how to do things the military way from my father "watch one, do one, teach one".

And unlike most of the "rail enthusiasts" I have a 4.0 GPA in political science and understand how public services are supposed to operate. The problem that I see with VIA is you have 2 provinces that get frequent and great service while the other 6 provinces VIA services are lucky to get a train every other day. If you continue to neglect these other 6 provinces eventually those people and their politicians can't be counted to vote for continued funding for VIA. So yes most of their revenue comes from the corridor I won't disagree with you there and I knew that before your fancy chart.

But you have to see where I'm coming from that there is a lot of political clout in these outlying provinces that could very easily be won over to VIA's camp as opposed to where they are which is a bit ambivalent as it stands. How can we say VIA services Saskatewan, or Alberta well? What about British Columbia? Yes the population is not nearly as dense but it doesn't mean these people don't matter.

No form of transportation exists without some form of a subsidy. Busses and cars drive on public roads, airlines fly into public airports, and ferry service exists because governments fund it's continued existence. Trains are no different they were subsidized too even in the 1950s under CN and CP Management. The difference was up until the 1960s and 70s the ridership was high enough that it was basically breaking even. Railroads operated these trains because it was a public service, part of their government charter, and as a way to market their freight service and real estate arms. It was once the ridership started tanking that the losses started to become untenable in the old format.

So does a service between St. John and Halifax have to make a profit. No it doesn't because that's not the mission. The mission is to be a public service and recover as much of the loss as possible in revenue. But it's still supposed to be subsidized.

I love VIA and I understand her unique issues but you really need the rural support if you want to maintain the network in it's current form. VIA still has good ridership on the Ocean all things considered. The Canadian unfortunately has morphed into a tourist train which is only going to hurt it because it's use as a usable mode of transportation has waned. That is partially due to the crappy schedule you can't really expect ridership if your running two days a week east of Edmonton. And with that it makes the argument really hard to keep the service if politicians are looking for something to cut.

To make the Canadian a better service just cut some of the sleeper lines off the train does one trainset really need 12 sleeper lines. You could cut the number of sleepers per set which also limits the amount of diners and skylines you need and get up to daily service. CN would cause some problems but again VIA needs the support in the federal government to force the issue preferably getting the same treatment and statutory power that Amtrak has. But to get that you need to win over parliament and you will need as many as you can get which means you need those rural areas.

In the western world we look at things differently we think everything needs to make a profit when in reality the place of a government run service is to run a good service.
I've been looking for someone who can give me advice on the Canadian "tourist train" so that I can benefit from the experience of someone who actually has ridden this train recently. This is going to be a "Bucket List" deal for my wife and I and I would like to do this right. We are "all in" on this and I have zero experience with Canada or VIA rail. I have been a regular rider on Amtrak since 1977.

We are going to take an around the country Amtrak/Via rail in Deluxe bedrooms and Prestige room on the Canadian from Toronto. Our trip is going to start in Tucson, Az and go to Los Angeles, then up to San Francisco. Then the Zephyr to Chicago and the Lake Shore Limited to Buffalo. Visit Niagara Falls and then Toronto. Next-- The Canadian all the way to Vancouver. We want to get a Prestige room for us and my wife will sleep there. I can't sleep with her because I move around too much so I will have to get a cheap room with a bed. And not an upper bunk.

I could sure use some advice on these questions. Best time of year to go. What car to get our room in. Can you bring your own DVD's to play in the wall mounted TV. How far in advance do I need to make the reservations. The best way to deal with the issue of my needing a separate bed. The most important question is what questions should I actually be asking that I really should be asking? Sometimes you don't know what to ask until you've done something and then realize the mistakes you made after it is too late.

Any help will be very much appreciated.

PS--- Is there a website like this Amtrak Forum that deals with VIA Rail?
 

Urban Sky

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Messages
140
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MTR
There are significant economies of scale even in the variable costs from running daily, primarily in layover time for crew (which is excessive on less than daily schedules). While the Canadian sells out routinely, the Ocean does not so often and daily service quite likely would see outsized increases in ridership sufficient to generate economies of scale from more passengers per train. Unless more cars are available it is a moot point though; it can't be done without more cars.
Indeed, the current schedule forces on-train staff (based in Halifax, IIRC) to layover for 36 (Thu/Fri, Sat/Sun) or even 50 (Mon/Tue/Wed) hours in Montreal before returning and similar staffing inefficiencies exist with Locomotive Engineers (though not between Sainte-Foy and Campbellton, as crews swap when their trains meet half-way). However, with revenues currently recovering (even before Covid!) less than half of their direct costs, I don't see how a return to, say, daily frequencies could be cost-neutral, especially given that the Ocean's largest revenue source (apart from subsidies, of course) are tourists which are largely insensitive to changed in service frequency...


I've been looking for someone who can give me advice on the Canadian "tourist train" so that I can benefit from the experience of someone who actually has ridden this train recently. This is going to be a "Bucket List" deal for my wife and I and I would like to do this right. We are "all in" on this and I have zero experience with Canada or VIA rail. I have been a regular rider on Amtrak since 1977.

We are going to take an around the country Amtrak/Via rail in Deluxe bedrooms and Prestige room on the Canadian from Toronto. Our trip is going to start in Tucson, Az and go to Los Angeles, then up to San Francisco. Then the Zephyr to Chicago and the Lake Shore Limited to Buffalo. Visit Niagara Falls and then Toronto. Next-- The Canadian all the way to Vancouver. We want to get a Prestige room for us and my wife will sleep there. I can't sleep with her because I move around too much so I will have to get a cheap room with a bed. And not an upper bunk.

I could sure use some advice on these questions. Best time of year to go. What car to get our room in. Can you bring your own DVD's to play in the wall mounted TV. How far in advance do I need to make the reservations. The best way to deal with the issue of my needing a separate bed. The most important question is what questions should I actually be asking that I really should be asking? Sometimes you don't know what to ask until you've done something and then realize the mistakes you made after it is too late.

Any help will be very much appreciated.

PS--- Is there a website like this Amtrak Forum that deals with VIA Rail?
I took the Canadian in both directions(westbound in May/June 2015 and eastbound in April/May 2019) in a cabin for 2 and I certainly recommend to start with a westbound trip, as it creates a nice build-up for the Rockies, starting with the monotonous trees-and-lakes-and-trees-and-lakes of Northern Ontario and suddenly transitioning into the not-as-flat-as-everyone-claims prairies until you eventually find yourself in the Rockies and (my favorite part) the Fraser canyon...!

As for the booking, you should be aware that Prestige Class and Sleeper Plus are not in the same cars and that you therefore want to be booked which is as close to your wife as possible (i.e. as far to the train end as possible). I sense that you expect more privacy than a bunk bed, but a Cabin for 1 should be more than fine for your purposes, as you will presumably spend most of your day with you wife either in her cabin or in the shared areas of the train.

I never traveled in Prestige Class, but I believe that they have a DVD player which would allow you to watch your own DVDs; however, in my personal opinion, the best thing about traveling by train is the scenery and that naturally makes the number of daylight hours a major consideration. The train gets quite busy and pricey in summer, but I really enjoyed our trips being in mid/late-spring. During the winter, you may want to time your trip with full moon for a very atmospheric experience.

I hope that helps you a bit, but I'm happy to answer more questions...
 
Last edited:

neroden

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So, it is a severe mistake to assume that tourists are insensitive to frequency. Tourists are extremely sensitive to frequency. Most Americans only get a few days off work or school at a time, or a week at a time not of their choice, and cannot schedule around less-than-daily service. Daily service massively increases tourist numbers.

You may be thinking of retirees. Most tourists are NOT retirees.

I mostly travel for leisure reasons. And I can set my own schedule to some extent, being self-employed. Still never managed to fit a less-than-daily route into my schedule.
 

Urban Sky

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Messages
140
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MTR
So, it is a severe mistake to assume that tourists are insensitive to frequency. Tourists are extremely sensitive to frequency. Most Americans only get a few days off work or school at a time, or a week at a time not of their choice, and cannot schedule around less-than-daily service. Daily service massively increases tourist numbers.

You may be thinking of retirees. Most tourists are NOT retirees.

I mostly travel for leisure reasons. And I can set my own schedule to some extent, being self-employed. Still never managed to fit a less-than-daily route into my schedule.
Those Sleeper passengers I met on board my two trips on board the Canadian and half a dozen trips on the Ocean overwhelmingly fitted the „Retirees“ category, but I do concede that we must consider a Survivor Bias, as you will only meet people on board a train which can make its schedule work for themselves…


Unless more cars are available it is a moot point though; it can't be done without more cars.
Indeed, as long as you reach your capacity limit during peak periods, there is no point to spread your limited fleet across more departures. Let‘s wait and see what this announcement means:

VIA Rail is pleased to invite all tier 1 original equipment manufacturers of intercity and long-distance rail cars and locomotives to attend the virtual VIA Rail non-corridor fleets renewal market day.
The day will be dedicated to both informing the market about the fleet renewal opportunity and addressing the context of the Government of Canada’s 2022-2023 Budget.
 
Last edited:

neroden

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Ooh... Possibility of real improvement if they manage to order enough cars!

I do think the 'remote services' are always going to be a massive expense and although daily service would sure help the locals, may not be justifiable. Is Churchill or Prince Rupert ever going to attract more than a niche ridership? Likely not any time soon. The Canadian and Ocean just seem to have more potential to me (I think that survivor bias is real).
 

toddinde

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Apr 23, 2015
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Sierra Vista, AZ
I personally find that remark quite offensive. Unlike the vast majority on this board I have done more physical work in the industry than most. I have crawled under the cars and taken the brake valves, cylinders, hoses, and other appliances off and replaced them with refreshed items. I've been all over the roof of cars patching and fixing leaks. I've also pulled marathon OBS shifts that have ran from 4 AM to 12 AM in a twin unit diner serving over 1,000 meals in a day. I've also made the bunks up, loaded the supplies, gathered the trash, and done basically every mission critical job other than operate the locomotive. And if given the training and license I'm sure I could learn that skill set. Now if you want to experience what brake work is call me in four years I have a set of 26C valves to do then and I'm happy to teach. After all I was taught how to do things the military way from my father "watch one, do one, teach one".

And unlike most of the "rail enthusiasts" I have a 4.0 GPA in political science and understand how public services are supposed to operate. The problem that I see with VIA is you have 2 provinces that get frequent and great service while the other 6 provinces VIA services are lucky to get a train every other day. If you continue to neglect these other 6 provinces eventually those people and their politicians can't be counted to vote for continued funding for VIA. So yes most of their revenue comes from the corridor I won't disagree with you there and I knew that before your fancy chart.

But you have to see where I'm coming from that there is a lot of political clout in these outlying provinces that could very easily be won over to VIA's camp as opposed to where they are which is a bit ambivalent as it stands. How can we say VIA services Saskatewan, or Alberta well? What about British Columbia? Yes the population is not nearly as dense but it doesn't mean these people don't matter.

No form of transportation exists without some form of a subsidy. Busses and cars drive on public roads, airlines fly into public airports, and ferry service exists because governments fund it's continued existence. Trains are no different they were subsidized too even in the 1950s under CN and CP Management. The difference was up until the 1960s and 70s the ridership was high enough that it was basically breaking even. Railroads operated these trains because it was a public service, part of their government charter, and as a way to market their freight service and real estate arms. It was once the ridership started tanking that the losses started to become untenable in the old format.

So does a service between St. John and Halifax have to make a profit. No it doesn't because that's not the mission. The mission is to be a public service and recover as much of the loss as possible in revenue. But it's still supposed to be subsidized.

I love VIA and I understand her unique issues but you really need the rural support if you want to maintain the network in it's current form. VIA still has good ridership on the Ocean all things considered. The Canadian unfortunately has morphed into a tourist train which is only going to hurt it because it's use as a usable mode of transportation has waned. That is partially due to the crappy schedule you can't really expect ridership if your running two days a week east of Edmonton. And with that it makes the argument really hard to keep the service if politicians are looking for something to cut.

To make the Canadian a better service just cut some of the sleeper lines off the train does one trainset really need 12 sleeper lines. You could cut the number of sleepers per set which also limits the amount of diners and skylines you need and get up to daily service. CN would cause some problems but again VIA needs the support in the federal government to force the issue preferably getting the same treatment and statutory power that Amtrak has. But to get that you need to win over parliament and you will need as many as you can get which means you need those rural areas.

In the western world we look at things differently we think everything needs to make a profit when in reality the place of a government run service is to run a good service.
Let me caveat this by saying I use all rail service, and corridors and rural service have tremendous value. The reality is that if any particular rail corridor in North America went away, it would be sad, but mobility would not be appreciably impacted. On the other hand, the rural community that loses rail service is likely losing its only public transportation option. If anyone looks at market penetration, they’ll see that some Amtrak stations that serve a county of say 20,000 people will board 8,000 passengers a year at that station. I guarantee that Washington or New York aren’t matching 40% riding Amtrak (I understand this isn’t a direct market penetration because of visitors and drawing from outside the area, but still) The “value” of passenger rail to underserved communities is exponentially greater as is the relative economic impact. The costs of running long distance trains are much less as well. The infrastructure is shared with freight, and much less intensive. Need proof? The western railroads in the US did much better with their passenger business than the eastern railroads did in the ‘60s. My point is not to argue against corridors, but to make the case for the long distance trains.
 

Gary Behling

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 28, 2019
Messages
72
Indeed, the current schedule forces on-train staff (based in Halifax, IIRC) to layover for 36 (Thu/Fri, Sat/Sun) or even 50 (Mon/Tue/Wed) hours in Montreal before returning and similar staffing inefficiencies exist with Locomotive Engineers (though not between Sainte-Foy and Campbellton, as crews swap when their trains meet half-way). However, with revenues currently recovering (even before Covid!) less than half of their direct costs, I don't see how a return to, say, daily frequencies could be cost-neutral, especially given that the Ocean's largest revenue source (apart from subsidies, of course) are tourists which are largely insensitive to changed in service frequency...



I took the Canadian in both directions(westbound in May/June 2015 and eastbound in April/May 2019) in a cabin for 2 and I certainly recommend to start with a westbound trip, as it creates a nice build-up for the Rockies, starting with the monotonous trees-and-lakes-and-trees-and-lakes of Northern Ontario and suddenly transitioning into the not-as-flat-as-everyone-claims prairies until you eventually find yourself in the Rockies and (my favorite part) the Fraser canyon...!

As for the booking, you should be aware that Prestige Class and Sleeper Plus are not in the same cars and that you therefore want to be booked which is as close to your wife as possible (i.e. as far to the train end as possible). I sense that you expect more privacy than a bunk bed, but a Cabin for 1 should be more than fine for your purposes, as you will presumably spend most of your day with you wife either in her cabin or in the shared areas of the train.

I never traveled in Prestige Class, but I believe that they have a DVD player which would allow you to watch your own DVDs; however, in my personal opinion, the best thing about traveling by train is the scenery and that naturally makes the number of daylight hours a major consideration. The train gets quite busy and pricey in summer, but I really enjoyed our trips being in mid/late-spring. During the winter, you may want to time your trip with full moon for a very atmospheric experience.

I hope that helps you a bit, but I'm happy to answer more questions...
Thank you for your reply to my post. We definitely for sure want the Prestige room. How many cars away from the Prestige Rooms are the cabins for one or a LOWER BUNK BED. I'm only going to use it for sleeping but I know this is a really long train.

When you make your reservations, do you ask for specific cars? I noticed that the last car not only has Prestige rooms, but also an upper domed scenic viewing seating and below has a bar and live entertainment. Do you know anything about that?
 

Seaboard92

Engineer
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
4,547
Location
South Carolina
Let me caveat this by saying I use all rail service, and corridors and rural service have tremendous value. The reality is that if any particular rail corridor in North America went away, it would be sad, but mobility would not be appreciably impacted. On the other hand, the rural community that loses rail service is likely losing its only public transportation option. If anyone looks at market penetration, they’ll see that some Amtrak stations that serve a county of say 20,000 people will board 8,000 passengers a year at that station. I guarantee that Washington or New York aren’t matching 40% riding Amtrak (I understand this isn’t a direct market penetration because of visitors and drawing from outside the area, but still) The “value” of passenger rail to underserved communities is exponentially greater as is the relative economic impact. The costs of running long distance trains are much less as well. The infrastructure is shared with freight, and much less intensive. Need proof? The western railroads in the US did much better with their passenger business than the eastern railroads did in the ‘60s. My point is not to argue against corridors, but to make the case for the long distance trains.
This is exactly my argument. The smaller places are just as important as the larger cities. And even regional cities are just as important as a small town. You have some really good regional cities in Midwestern/Western Canada like Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, etc. If you can make these better connected you are really helping their local economy.

As far as the Canadian I'm taking my Russian friends sometime this year once we can figure out the visa situation for Canada for them, and when they can "Afford it". More than likely I'll end up subsidizing the fare a bit out of my own money. I make good money at this point.
 

Urban Sky

Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 23, 2018
Messages
140
Location
MTR
Thank you for your reply to my post. We definitely for sure want the Prestige room. How many cars away from the Prestige Rooms are the cabins for one or a LOWER BUNK BED. I'm only going to use it for sleeping but I know this is a really long train.

When you make your reservations, do you ask for specific cars? I noticed that the last car not only has Prestige rooms, but also an upper domed scenic viewing seating and below has a bar and live entertainment. Do you know anything about that?
The consist of the Canadian is described in a fair bit of detail on VIA's webpage for the Canadian:

The last car of the Canadian is the Park car (car number #39), which houses the iconic bullet lounge, a dome, one Prestige bedroom and the accessible bedroom):
1640760181635.png

Directly in front of the Park car are the Prestige Chateaus (car numbers #31 - if there is a second one - and #30), which offer 6 Prestige bedrooms each:
1640760327827.png

The next car is an ordinary Chateau car, which is usually only used for crews:
1640761241771.png

If I recall correctly, the next two cars are a Dining car...
1640760523217.png

...followed by a Skyline car (a lounge car with a dome):
1640760474800.png



It is only then that you reach the Manor cars (which is where Sleeper Plus passengers are accommodated and hosts 4 cabins for 1 ("Roomettes"), 6 cabins for 2 and 3 "Sections" (consisting of one Upper and Lower berth each, each separated from the corridor by only a curtain):
1640761290962.png

Consist sizes are adjusted to match demand and thus variable, but during the summer you usually find 6 Manors (starting with #15 and followed by #14/13/12/11/10), another Diner and Skyline a few more Manors (#22/21/20), leading to the third Skyline (for Economy passengers), two coaches (#03/02) and the baggage car (right behind the locomotives).

Clearly, you would want to be as close to your wife as possible, which is why you probably should request car #15 (i.e. #115 on Train 1 or #215 on Train 2) for yourself and #30 (i.e. #130/230) for your wife. However, the numbering is different on an off-peak consist and you will anyways have to call in to request a certain car, so just ask the agent to book you as close to the train end as possible...


***


This is exactly my argument. The smaller places are just as important as the larger cities. And even regional cities are just as important as a small town. You have some really good regional cities in Midwestern/Western Canada like Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, etc. If you can make these better connected you are really helping their local economy.

As far as the Canadian I'm taking my Russian friends sometime this year once we can figure out the visa situation for Canada for them, and when they can "Afford it". More than likely I'll end up subsidizing the fare a bit out of my own money. I make good money at this point.
Your Russian friends can surely call themselves lucky to travel with you and I'm sure you all will have a very memorable trip!

I couldn't agree more on your statement about the need to provide reliable, frequent and affordable public transportation links to all major population centers across Western Canada, which makes me wonder what we keep arguing about. The only point I'm trying to make is that as a taxpayer, I'm happy with funding either mode, as long as the choice of mode to be funded is based on a rational decision and that favors a train if 300 people happen to want to travel into the same direction at roughly the same time, but a bus if it's only 30.

Having estimated and compared the per-timetable-km costs of Ontario Northland's bus services ($3.80 in 2017-18) with those of VIA's services ($26-$130 if using fully allocated costs or $17-$57 if using direct costs only), it just makes me sad whenever I imagine what kind of intercity bus network could be funded with a federal subsidy equivalent to what is already spent on VIA's remote services:

Maybe that explains why I find it rather patronizing towards the residents of the kind of underserved cities you’ve listed when certain rail enthusiasts/advocates seemingly insist that these cities should not accept anything less than a train and certainly not by a bus (unless the latter serves as a feeder service to the former), while a very modest operating subsidy could pay for a service standard (say, at least 3 buses per day between these cities) which would never be financially justifiable as a rail service...

In any case, have a good night and a happy new year!
 
Last edited:

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
9,213
Location
Ithaca, NY
Of course, VIA's remote services go to places with no roads, where buses are simply not an option.

Meanwhile, the Canadian and Ocean go to places where 300+ people per day would want to travel if there was daily, on-time service.

Of course, the bus system in Canada should have been nationalized when Greyhound Canada collapsed; it covered the feeder routes to a lot of places where there are roads but which aren't Edmonton or Winnipeg sized. But it wasn't.
 
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