The Joys of VIA Rail Operations

This thread has been created to hold a string of comments that developed elsewhere about VIA’s less than first rate manner of operation as compared with other railways, even GO Transit.

Comments found elsewhere on this subject will be moved here.

This thread branched off from the DRL discussion with a comment by Robert Wightman:

VIA does not have a clue how to operate efficient inter-city, especially in Southern Ontario. GO knows how to operate the type of service needed in Southern Ontario efficiently, unfortunately they are not operating the type of commuter service needed. But they are still better than most of the other commuter rail service in North America. The Ontario Government should take over VIA’s rail service in South Western Ontario and run it like they do GO. For the same subsidy they would carry a lot more passengers and build a decent rail network. Going to Ottawa and Montreal would be problematic because it involve trains that go into Quebec.

34 thoughts on “The Joys of VIA Rail Operations

  1. Robert Wightman said:

    VIA does not have a clue how to operate efficient inter-city, especially in Southern Ontario.

    VIA Rail provides cross Canada service with a budget that is 1/5th the size of the TTC’s.

    Steve: And VIA does not have to maintain most of the infrastructure it runs on, and has a tiny fleet. If the TTC ran a few trains a day on someone else’s railroad, and had say enough buses to fill one garage, they could run on a miniscule budget too.

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  2. Steve said:

    And VIA does not have to maintain most of the infrastructure it runs on, and has a tiny fleet. If the TTC ran a few trains a day on someone else’s railroad, and had say enough buses to fill one garage, they could run on a miniscule budget too.

    The point I was trying to get across is that it’s easy to pull the “failure to be efficient” card without being aware of the budget available for all routes in their coverage area. Remember that budget is for service across Canada and not just southern Ontario.

    Of course, there is the little fact that VIA has had its budget cut by 60% over the past 3 years.

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  3. Nick L says:
    December 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    “VIA Rail provides cross Canada service with a budget that is 1/5th the size of the TTC’s.”

    True, but they carry a lot fewer passengers, about 4.1 million annually or 1% of the TTC’s count with 20% of the TTC’s budget, this is not something to brag about. VIA is still using nineteenth century practices in the twenty first century. I have spent the past 2 months travelling about Europe and not one rail line used only one door for loading and unloading; every line used every door on every car. Most station had automatic ticket vending machines and many rural stations had no attendant.

    VIA is too labour intensive with manned station for lines that run 1 or 2 trains a day and 3 person crews for trains with only 2 cars. GO runs 3 man crews for 12 car trains with many stations unmanned out side of peak hours. VIA will never run 12 car trains but they could run better equipment. Many European regional trains run bi-level self propelled equipment with one engineer and one passenger agent (sometimes). The stations had ticket vending machines instead of agents. If you needed help you used the phone.

    VIA pays wheelage charges, a charge for each axle it runs over CN or CP tracks. A self propelled bi-level would carry as many people as VIA’s 2 car train through Stratford with 1/3 the wheels and 2/3 of the crew. Someone has to come up with the capital cost to buy new equipment but lets not buy any more equipment that uses those stupid narrow single doors at the end of the coach.

    My apologies for getting “slightly” off topic.

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  4. Re: VIA: Don’t get me started on the lack of raised platforms. Yet another factor in slow and, for all but especially for some, inconvenient loading and unloading. The use of few doors makes this even more absurd — as long as they’re only using a couple of doors, the raised platform only needs to be short bit at the top of a ramp. A few guys could, if needed, build it out of pressure-treated lumber on a weekend, not that I would recommend something that looked at home in somebody’s backyard for a train station.

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  5. Robert Wightman said:

    Most station had automatic ticket vending machines and many rural stations had no attendant.

    Just like VIA Rail. In fact, quite a few of their stops don’t even have the ticket machine.

    Robert Wightman said:

    Someone has to come up with the capital cost to buy new equipment

    And with those few words, you spell out why everything you said is pointless.

    Let me say it again. VIA has had its budget cut by 60% over the past 3 years. Any investments in equipment currently being undertaken by VIA were started before then.

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  6. Nick L says:

    “Just like VIA Rail. In fact, quite a few of their stops don’t even have the ticket machine.”

    Whose stops are “their stops”? The trouble with pronouns is that their antecedents are not always clear. I am assuming you are talking about VIA as I found very few stations in Europe where there where no ticket machines or agents.

    How is it “Just like VIA Rail” if they don’t have ticket machines? I believe that you can get tickets over the Internet but this is not useful for everyone but a ticket machine is.

    Someone has to come up with the capital cost to buy new equipment

    “And with those few words, you spell out why everything you said is pointless.”

    Yes but when they had money they bought equipment that followed the old pattern. There one purchase recently was for refurbished BUDD cars built in the 50’s. Even if we gave VIA money they would buy the wrong equipment. We would be better off if Ontario could get the current subsidy, all $0.02 worth, and let GO run the service. After all it is Government of Ontario Transit and got GTHA Transit.

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  7. Robert Wightman said:

    How is it “Just like VIA Rail” if they don’t have ticket machines? I believe that you can get tickets over the Internet but this is not useful for everyone but a ticket machine is.

    And here I thought that we had smart phones and tablets in the 21st century. VIA is moving to a digital boarding pass system which includes the barcode being scanned directly off of the screen of a tablet or smart phone with the ultimate goal of eliminating physical boarding passes. This is something that the TTC should consider for the Family Pass in a post Presto system.

    And for those stations that lack ticket machines and station agents, VIA does the primitive method of allowing people boarding there to pay on the train; much like how they have it in Europe.

    Robert Wightman said:

    Yes but when they had money they bought equipment that followed the old pattern.

    That’s because that equipment was cheap due to it being second hand. The only passenger carrying equipment that VIA has had built for them are the LRC cars built in the 1980’s.

    Also, I can see how dated your information is because the last major rail car purchase made by VIA was the Renaissance fleet about 13 years ago. Those cars were also second hand equipment; albeit lightly used second hand equipment with some having interior assembly required and all requiring modifications for our cold weather climate. Unless you are referring to the cars purchased from BC Rail in 2002 when it abandoned passenger service which would be a poor example since those are tourist and lounge cars.

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  8. Go to Japan. You will need two trips.

    Trip # 1 (maybe 7 to 10 days) is just an introduction. Your brain cells will explode. Nothing to get concerned about.

    Trip # 2 is where you learn everything. The Japanese have solved everything, maybe not 100%, but very close.

    Between the hubs of Tokyo and Osaka, they know how to move people. There is no way you can argue to the contrary.

    There is a lot, if not over 50% of public transport in Japan that is private ownership, in some confusing manner.

    Major changes have to happen in southern Ontario, and it will happen, and it may be forced.

    Steve: And a goodly chunk of that “private” transportation network is supported directly or indirectly by the central government. That was a revealing lesson I learned at a recent session on Japanese transit put on by non other than the Japanese Consulate in Toronto.

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  9. Nick L says;

    “Also, I can see how dated your information is because the last major rail car purchase made by VIA was the Renaissance fleet about 13 years ago. Those cars were also second hand equipment; albeit lightly used second hand equipment with some having interior assembly required and all requiring modifications for our cold weather climate. Unless you are referring to the cars purchased from BC Rail in 2002 when it abandoned passenger service which would be a poor example since those are tourist and lounge cars.”

    I don’t see why my information is dated. It may be second hand equipment but it still has old style door loading; they still do not use all the doors; they still have too many ticket agents and on board employees. Smart phone tickets are nice but not useful for the casual user who might want to ride the train but most people can figure out how to use a ticket machine. Didn’t VIA buy refurbished BUDD cars for Northern Ontario and BC. Again old style and just plain old equipment,

    “And for those stations that lack ticket machines and station agents, VIA does the primitive method of allowing people boarding there to pay on the train; much like how they have it in Europe.”

    And this requires an on board employee to sell the tickets. A lot of the regional trains I rode had no one to sell you a ticket by they had spot inspections to fine you if you did not have a ticket.

    Everything that you say about VIA may be true but it does not change the fact that the operations and equipment design are from the wrong century. Brand new or almost brand new coaches with a single loading door that requires a crew person to put out that stupid step is still dumb.

    It is true that they do not get much in the way of capital funding but have they spent the money they have received wisely?

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  10. Robert Wightman says:

    “I have spent the past 2 months travelling about Europe and not one rail line used only one door for loading and unloading; every line used every door on every car [unlike VIA]”

    It gets better. The ‘Renaissance’ coaches were bought from the UK (surplus stock) … and had one set of doors REMOVED!!!

    My top changes for VIA would be:

    1) Go from one staff member per coach to one staff member per two coaches – but do it but doubling the number of carriages. This would double capacity but increase operating costs by much smaller amount. VIA could then lower prices and attract more passengers, without increasing the operating subsidy.

    2) Open all the doors at every stop with automatic (rather than manual) doors. That will reduce dwell times, and probably cancel out the longer run times from running longer trains.

    3) Embrace commuter traffic. One commuter is 500 trips/year, so it doesn’t take many to boost the stats.

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  11. God knows VIA has its problems but clearly comparisons to TTC are inapt. The operation over the border however shows several ways in which VIA could be improved, starting with the quantity of financial and operating performance data released to the public.

    VIA is expected to simultaneously perform the role of tourist train operator, rural train operator and intercity operator without clarity of what is paying for what in terms of government support. In the first case, this business is undermined by an aggressive competitor in Rocky Mountaineer. In the second case, VIA fleet management sends two (or three if a turntable is broken) mainline locomotives to haul 5 coaches into northern Quebec on the Jonquiere/Senneterre route. In the third case, the 3rd largest and 5th largest cities in Canada, an aggregate of almost 2 million separated by a rail friendly distance of 300km, are unconnected by passenger rail service.

    The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, on the other hand, has brought a certain clarity to how Amtrak operates unprofitable routes, with States like Pennsylvania being forced to cough up to keep the NYC-Pittsburgh service. At the same time, States like Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina and Maine are making investments in track and rolling stock and seeing decent returns in passenger numbers. The NEC backbone, particularly Acela, is cash-positive. During major holidays such as Thanksgiving Amtrak is a much more publicly visible contributor to getting people around.

    While the density of the NEC corridor and other US-specific differences make direct comparison imprecise, it is likely were a modified PRIIA type arrangement to be enforced in Canada, routes like Jonquiere and White River extant in part because of arrangements in place at the formation of VIA would suddenly become, at least in part, the responsibility of Queen’s Park and the National Assembly to preserve or at least facilitate operation in a more profitable or efficient manner through procurement of more efficient equipment in the case of Jonquiere/Senneterre or the funding of extra siding or other items to decrease journey times with consequences for rostering, fuel usage and service attractiveness. With more transparency of operating numbers, the pleas of enthusiasts for certain financial black holes like extending White River trains to Thunder Bay and so forth would have definable opportunity costs.

    Such a decision would force a discussion within the provinces about the value of these services but also the need for others which would be utterly precluded under current “keep the boat afloat and no more” arrangements such as Montreal-Sherbrooke. At the same time VIA could continue progress on increasing frequency and average speed of services where they are demonstrably competitive on a commercial basis such as Montreal-Ottawa.

    A final note to Nick L: “VIA has had its budget cut by 60% over the past 3 years”. VIA gets operating and capital support, some up front and some supplemented later. The three years in question coincided in part with significant costs in F40PH fleet refurbishment and additional track laying, platforms and signalling. Some of this work had direct consequences for operating cost, such as the fitting of HEP generators during the F40 works rather than have the prime movers do so, resulting in a reduction in the number of locomotives on each Canadian from 3 to 2. Would it be better if the subsidy remained the same? Probably, but there are structural issues in VIA and as I noted above and federal money isn’t going to fix all of them since this creates little incentive for provinces to ensure intra-provincial services connect into VIA services and thereby create better viability for same.

    The fact that some ongoing cuts have happened can be seen by the reduction of headcount in rural stations and the cuts to porters in Toronto but the move to more e-ticketing etc. means that stations will become merely bus stops unless and until municipalities decide to take a stake in them and operate them as transit hubs, justifying a staff presence which will in many cases be more continuous through the day than in the current arrangements where the station is open/staffed only around times a train is due and with little connectivity save a taxi into the local area.

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  12. Mark Dowling:

    “In the second case, VIA fleet management sends two (or three if a turntable is broken) mainline locomotives to haul 5 coaches into northern Quebec on the Jonquiere/Senneterre route.”

    Can you expand on this a bit? I’m having trouble understanding why three locomotives would ever be needed for a short train. I would have thought that one at each end would allow bidirectional travel without any turning facilities. Or use just one locomotive and a cab car at one end, an idea that feels strangely familiar.

    “In the third case, the 3rd largest and 5th largest cities in Canada, an aggregate of almost 2 million separated by a rail friendly distance of 300km, are unconnected by passenger rail service.”

    Is that Calgary-Edmonton? If so, I experienced that just a couple of weeks ago. I flew from YKF (Kitchener-Waterloo) near home to YYC (Calgary), then on to YEG (Edmonton). The last flight literally had the seatbelt sign on longer than it was off, and still left us kilometers South of Edmonton. A train with stops in downtown Calgary, YYC, Red Deer, YEG, downtown Edmonton would provide intercity service, downtown-to-airport service, and Airporter-style service all in one, could connect to LRT at both ends, and would effectively increase the capacity of both airports because all those ridiculously short-haul YYC-YEG flights could be eliminated. That’s a project I would be happy to help fund with my federal tax dollars rather than flushing the money down the hole in Scarborough.

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  13. VIA is an interesting beast. What they do the best, quite clearly, is the land-cruise tourist services. Their longer-distance business class trains aren’t so bad, either. They have clearly specialized in trips that take two hours or more, and their cars are built for comfort, and not speed of detraining. Their commuter services were a bit of an odd duck: like they were trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole.

    When VIA was still operating a 6:30 a.m. departure from Kitchener, and GO was launching its new train service to that city, I said that I would likely take VIA Rail into Toronto in the morning and GO Transit out in the afternoon. Why? Well, VIA’s service was 20 minutes faster, as it didn’t stop at Mount Pleasant, Bramalea, Etobicoke North, Weston or Bloor. The seats were a lot more comfortable, and offered power outlets (GO is slowly adopting this). You could have coffee and snacks on the inbound train. That was worth the $10 premium in my ticket. And, oh! the legroom!

    But as I said, I would take GO home in the afternoon. Why? Well, VIA’s advantages are basically negated at Union Station where they have the strange policy of forcing everyone to line-up as much as a half-hour before departure in order to board their outbound trains. And line-up for the 5:40 departure to Kitchener is so long, it frankly disrupts the progress of other commuters trying to access Milton trains going through the VIA departures area. The boarding at Kitchener is slow, but the train is still away within five minutes of stopping. The excruciating length of time to set up the departure from Union is VIA’s problem in a nutshell: this is how people expecting to travel in comfort to Montreal or Vancouver are able to accept, not what people who are hoping to return home quickly to Kitchener want.

    Still, if you want antiquated systems, look no further than the Northlander (may she rest in peace, or be resurrected someday in a more modern operation). With VIA, I can buy tickets online, and show them to the collector on my cellphone for scanning. With the Northlander, I could only purchase tickets at the station or on the train. Doing so by phone incurred a $10 surcharge. But the Northlander’s legroom topped even VIA’s legroom.

    Sadly, through budget cuts, we lost the 6:30 inbound trip from Kitchener, and the 10 p.m. outbound. That stung. Sure, the 6:30 departure was duplicated by GO Transit, but the 10 p.m. outbound departure was a nice bit of security for those who might want to spend an evening on the town before returning home. It’s a shame VIA didn’t delete both runs (the 5:40) that were duplicated by GO’s commuter services, and leave open more options for passengers. Oh, well.

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  14. @Isaac – the train splits at Hervey Junction, thus requiring at least two locos. Because each loco is single ended, they must be turned or wye to reverse. Where no such facility is available two locomotives run back to back so the rear cab can be used to propel the train home having run around. There are some youtubes out there of the situation I mentioned, leased ex-GO F59PHs were involved.

    VIA does seem to be exploring new options – every other Skeena (Jasper-Prince Rupert) is to be operated by an RDC-Skyline-RDC set.

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  15. All door loading works when passengers are waiting on the platform, a wide and safe platform, as is evident all over Europe.

    Yes, doesn’t it sound wonderful to imagine the province take over SW Ontario Via routes, but would they act any quicker than all day GO service to Brampton or Markham.

    As for discussion about Via buying the wrong equipment, isn’t that what the province is doing at this very moment with UPX single level high platform DMU’s, especially given the constrained train length when bi levels would be so useful!

    By observation, it is now very rare to see Via trains heading east (Ottawa and Montreal) of greater than four cars. Via are choosing not to exploit the marginal cost increases associated with longer trains and filling them with promotional fares; growing their share!

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  16. @JamesBow

    I go between Toronto and Kitchener for school and take Via to do so. I always see all the people lining up and I don’t understand why they do that. Everyone is guaranteed a seat and usually you can get window or aisle (depending on preference) yet everyone stands and waits for half and hour for no reason. I just ask why?

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  17. Clearly what VIA Rail needs is for Hunter Harrison to take over as the new CEO and get things ship-shape. (Like the captain of a submarine he would sink that ship!)

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  18. I’m sitting in the Great Hall and at 19:34 on Sunday, there’s one more departure today on VIA. A train to Aldershot. Our national rail service does indeed seem to operate on a different planet than Europe, or GO for that matter.

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  19. Just checked Via Rail website. Toronto to Niagara Falls $63.28 return for a weekend. GO transit $17.10 each way. Via does not have a Falls to Toronto on Sunday night so they route you onto GO.

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  20. Stan salter says:
    December 8, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    “Just checked Via Rail website. Toronto to Niagara Falls $63.28 return for a weekend. GO transit $17.10 each way. Via does not have a Falls to Toronto on Sunday night so they route you onto GO.”

    And the subsidy per VIA passenger is much higher than per GO passenger. VIA should pay GO to operate the passenger service in Ontario with help from the Ontario Government.

    Most of Europe uses platforms that are about the same height as GO’s handicap platforms. There is still a lot of older equipment that has a narrow single width door at each end of the car but the newer equipment has wider doors. All doors I saw were released by the rail crew and operated by the passengers, like the doors at one end of each GO car. Every door was available for boarding.

    Most of the new regional equipment has low floors between the trucks that are the same height as the platforms. Two double width doors. There were a lot of 4 truck articulated low floor vehicles, both single and double level multiple unit cars, some made by a company called Bombardier. Most operated only with an engineer who also operated the doors. There were periodic ticket inspections. These cars probably do not meet current TC safety requirements but Bombardier should be able to make one that does combining features from GO bi-levels and their European MU cars, both diesel and electric.

    My problem with VIA started when I had to wait in Niagara for a GO train because the Amtrack VIA train was late and then took 12 minutes to load 50 passengers. The GO train came in, unloaded, then loaded 700 passengers and took off in about 2 minutes. The difference in operating philosophy was evident. I started watching VIA trains elsewhere and the problems with only using one or two doors became more evident, especially near holidays as larger crowds kept making the trains later and later.

    VIA as it now operates cannot survive, the subsidies are too high for most governments. A lot of the problem is caused by VIA because they keep buying cars to serve Central Station in Montreal which has high platforms. There might be one other station with high platforms but there are none in Ontario. If they would raise their platforms like GO has they would not need that stupid portable step and could use more doors. Some times the crews use more doors in Brampton because of the higher platforms, but the crewman/woman must run to the next coach to open the door manually.

    I believe that VIA’s problem lies in their culture, they operate main line passenger trains and they cannot conceive of anything else. GO when it was formed combined aspects of rapid transit and mainline rail to operate a much more efficient service.

    There are two chances of the current federal government helping VIA and slim has all ready left town. The Ontario government is not much better because they killed the ONR rail service but then they did the same thing to their passenger equipment that VIA did when they bought and refurbished old GO single levels by changing the doors to single width at one end only.

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  21. Robert Wightman wrote:

    “Even if we gave VIA money they would buy the wrong equipment. We would be better off if Ontario could get the current subsidy, all $0.02 worth, and let GO run the service. After all it is Government of Ontario Transit and got GTHA Transit.”

    Sorry, but they have already done this on the Niagara Falls run, and for the most part on the ‘back route’ to London (via Kitchener.)

    The ride to Niagara Falls by train was more comfortable on VIA than on GO. Also, GO only operates a train to Niagara Falls on the weekends in the summer. The commuters who used to use VIA have no alternative than to drive now as GO only offers the occasional bus which cannot handle the people that the commuter run VIA offered did. GO keeps talking about a commuter train to Niagara Falls, but nothing goes past Hamilton.

    Also, comparing GO to VIA is not fair. GO (and the TTC) are essentially geared to moving commuters into downtown Toronto, or – at least for the TTC – to move people around a comparatively small area (i.e. Toronto.) VIA Rail, on the other hand, offers long distance travel and has much more comfortable equipment.

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  22. With respect to VIA Rail, they do not know how to capture the business crowd. There are almost hourly departures from YYZ to YUL and YOW on both WestJet and Air Canada. So, there is a demand for fast travel in this sector. On a downtown Toronto to downtown Montreal trip, VIA Rail is relatively competitive. There is also the advantage of not passing through security and no taxi rides to and from the airport. With this natural advantage, they still screw up. If they run something like the KiHa 283 trains, even without track upgrades, the trip to Montreal will be much faster.

    I have used JR East, JR West, JR Kyushu, JR Tokai and JR Hokkaido trains many times. North American rail operations can be described as third world. Those JRs inherited many miles of railroads from Japan National Railways. Since then, there have been no central government support for capex except Shinkansen lines. Market forces now dictate what lines can be run and scrapped. JR Hokkaido scrapped almost 1000km of lines since privatization.

    Even in JR East whose operations cover Tokyo, the bulk of their profits come from Shinkansen operations and not regular intercity lines. This is why the Chuo Shinkansen (maglev) is being built largely with JR East money. Intercity train and inner city train service is just not very profitable. VIA rail should operate on the same principle. Make profit on the long distance sector like the Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa sectors. Use those money to run the less profitable part of network.

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  23. And that ladies and gentlemen is why Steve Munro is right. Public transit in Canada is horrendous!!! This includes every single city in Canada! Ya I’m looking at you Translink and Metrolinx! They both fail to provide network links! (no pun intended)

    Amtrak is way better than VIA rail by the way.

    Steve: For the record I do not think transit is horrendous, only that it could be a lot better than it is. Transit management and politicians should stop finding excuses for what they have not done, and get on with making their systems better. But it’s easier to say “if only Ottawa gave us money” or “we can’t run service in mixed traffic” or “we have to make sacrifices for the common good”. Sanctimonious crap.

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  24. Robert Wightman said:

    Smart phone tickets are nice but not useful for the casual user who might want to ride the train but most people can figure out how to use a ticket machine.

    So explain to us how much it will cost to install ticket machines at every rural flag stop in Canada as opposed to ensuring that the existing crew can do elementary school level math and use a computer in the event that someone boarding at a stop without a ticket machine doesn’t have a tablet or smart phone with a valid boarding pass on it?

    Robert Wightman said:

    Didn’t VIA buy refurbished BUDD cars for Northern Ontario and BC.

    Refurbishment of the existing fleet with the exception being a new baggage only RDC to act as a spare for the Sudbury-White River run (currently being used on the Skeena test train).

    Robert Wightman said:

    Brand new or almost brand new coaches with a single loading door that requires a crew person to put out that stupid step is still dumb.

    You do realize that to make room for the second set of doors on coaches, you basically have to remove the bathrooms or eliminate seats rather than trying to maximize car revenue, right? Also, just out of curiosity, did you bother to check if there was a legal requirement for a crew person to help individuals off the train before declaring VIA Rail dumb for doing it? Of course, it’s amusing that you keep calling service delivery based on the airline customer service model dumb.

    The thing that you still don’t realize is that the only way to achieve what you demand is a total fleet replacement.

    There is no point to have a mix of “rapid passenger exchange” cars and the existing fleet since you want all door loading and good luck with finding a cheap design that is able to work with both the Ren fleet and the HEP/HEP2/LRC fleet. I also believe that Steve has previously pointed out the view that CN and CP Rail have towards high platforms (if you want them, build your own railroad) due to the speed restrictions they put on freight trains. This basically eliminates the point of rebuilding the existing fleet with automatic doors to speed up loading/unloading; assuming they could be upgraded in the first place and that someone would provide the money for them to build new platforms at every station across Canada.

    So the only solution is to replace all of VIA’s passenger handling equipment and when we factor in VIA’s funding issues, we see that what you want is unobtainable and is thus pointless.

    Mark Dowling said:

    Some of this work had direct consequences for operating cost, such as the fitting of HEP generators during the F40 works rather than have the prime movers do so, resulting in a reduction in the number of locomotives on each Canadian from 3 to 2.

    Actually, the increase in the number of cars per locomotive is more due to the improved reliability after the rebuild rather than the new HEP generators. Simply put, the F40’s were basically falling apart when they finally started to rebuild them.

    Mark Dowling said:VIA does seem to be exploring new options – every other Skeena (Jasper-Prince Rupert) is to be operated by an RDC-Skyline-RDC set.

    For the moment, that’s just a test train to take advantage of the Vancouver island RDC’s being unused right now to see if that arrangement can handle off season traffic.

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  25. “I believe that VIA’s problem lies in their culture, they operate main line passenger trains and they cannot conceive of anything else.”

    I think you’re right — and VIA has an antiquated concept of “main line passenger trains”, on top of that.

    Amtrak — which has operating practices generally considered antiquated operating practices — usually manages to open all the doors on all the cars, and in most stations allows people to line up on the platform ready to go, and can board hundreds of people in five minutes. Even on high-floor trains with low platforms.

    Amtrak understands how to run a service along the distance of Niagara Falls – Toronto, and runs a *lot* of them, pretty efficiently, even with high staffing levels.

    Amtrak makes a point of buying modern equipment whenever it can. Although Amtrak is using some 1950s cars, they’re trying to retire them. VIA is basing its entire “strategy” around using 1950s rail cars.

    Furthermore, when Amtrak has to cut service — as Amtrak has had to do in the past, due to budget cuts:

    * Amtrak does not make routes less-than-daily (a known ridership killer, last tried in 1996 and reversed within the year) — VIA does
    * Amtrak does not cut trains which are busy, but rather trains which are empty (VIA leaves empty “essential services” while cutting busy routes)
    * Amtrak goes out of its way to maintain connections (VIA breaks connections)
    * Amtrak documents what portion of their revenues come from each route, and what portion of their costs are going to different routes, and while you can argue about cost allocation, at least they *try*. VIA doesn’t report any of that.
    * Amtrak gives a business case for changes in service. VIA simply doesn’t; when asked to substantiate his claims that certain trains axed in the last round of cuts were “low ridership”, Laliberte admitted that he had no numbers.

    Honestly, VIA is no way to run a railroad. The last North American railroad to be operated this badly before VIA was perhaps the Milwaukee Road, which famously had its accounting wrong for a decade, and as a result decided to abandon the only profitable part of the railroad and keep the unprofitable part. This attitude is showing up in spades at VIA.

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  26. Nick L says:
    December 10, 2013 at 12:42 am

    “So explain to us how much it will cost to install ticket machines at every rural flag stop in Canada as opposed to ensuring that the existing crew can do elementary school level math and use a computer in the event that someone boarding at a stop without a ticket machine doesn’t have a tablet or smart phone with a valid boarding pass on it?”

    There are many different models of ticket machines and they do not need to have all the bells and whistles, just issue a basic ticket. VIA’s service in much of Canada is doomed to failure because it does not run often enough, runs at inconvenient times or is too slow. I am not talking about all the flag stops in very rural area but about the existing stations that see one or 2 trains per day but have a ticket agent, except on weekends when there is probably a higher demand. The existing crew is too large so reducing it and the wheelage charge would be a permanent saving. Teaching them to do math results in no saving.

    “You do realize that to make room for the second set of doors on coaches, you basically have to remove the bathrooms or eliminate seats rather than trying to maximize car revenue, right? Also, just out of curiosity, did you bother to check if there was a legal requirement for a crew person to help individuals off the train before declaring VIA Rail dumb for doing it? Of course, it’s amusing that you keep calling service delivery based on the airline customer service model dumb.”

    If they would use bi-levels with doors, more than one, they would increase capacity while speeding up loading. GO is not required to assist passengers on and off the train with their low level doors. AMT is not required to help passengers on and off with their old GO single level coaches so it is not a requirement if you use well designed equipment. You are arguing for an outmoded model rather than fighting for smart changes.

    Airlines run most of their service point to point where loading times do not delay other passengers as everyone gets on or off at the same stop. The airline model is dumb because VIA is NOT an airline. If you are talking about different prices for different demand days CN used to have Red, White and Blue fares to encourage riding on low demand days then that’s smart.

    “Refurbishment of the existing fleet with the exception being a new baggage only RDC to act as a spare for the Sudbury-White River run (currently being used on the Skeena test train).”

    I thought that they actually traded in their cars for totally refurbished cars. The Baggage only car, RDC 4, is not new but is a refurbished car from the 50s. The thing is they did not change style of equipment.

    “There is no point to have a mix of “rapid passenger exchange” cars and the existing fleet since you want all door loading and good luck with finding a cheap design that is able to work with both the Ren fleet and the HEP/HEP2/LRC fleet. I also believe that Steve has previously pointed out the view that CN and CP Rail have towards high platforms (if you want them, build your own railroad) due to the speed restrictions they put on freight trains. This basically eliminates the point of rebuilding the existing fleet with automatic doors to speed up loading/unloading; assuming they could be upgraded in the first place and that someone would provide the money for them to build new platforms at every station across Canada.”

    I do not want subway height platforms but GO style platforms, these do not seem to require freight trains to slow down. I do not want the existing equipment rebuilt but am arguing that it is the WRONG equipment. Please read what I write and not what you think I wrote.

    CN originally built its TEMPO cars with the same voltage as GO cars. This allowed them to use GO equipment on South west Ontario trains at very high demand times. When they switched to Amtrak voltage they lost this ability though I do realize the GO uses a unique voltage, 600 VAC 3 phase instead of 480 VAC.

    “So the only solution is to replace all of VIA’s passenger handling equipment and when we factor in VIA’s funding issues, we see that what you want is unobtainable and is thus pointless.”

    I realize that funding is a major issue, especially with this government but the current system is doomed to a long slow death. Building higher platforms, GO level not subway level, is a good start but when it comes to buying new equipment buy decent new equipment and not cast offs from someone else.

    I think that VIA should be turned over to the provinces and they could decide if the service is essential and pick the equipment for it. The current system is very flawed. Instead of putting forth arguments why VIA cannot change look for ways to improve it. If you want to ride trains using nineteenth century procedures go to a steam museum.

    Toronto Streetcars says:

    The ride to Niagara Falls by train was more comfortable on VIA than on GO.

    True but that is due to the seat choice and not the car design. Seat choice can be changed but that can be the topic of another stream.

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  27. Since 60% of Via Rail’s budget has already been taken away, how much longer can anyone realistically expect the remaining forty percent to last before it, too, is eliminated in the interest of fiscal prudence?

    You are in a race with the U.S. to see which of the two countries becomes the first to fully eliminate all long-distance passenger rail services. You have your parliament in Ottawa and we, our Congress in Washington, D.C. – both filled with politicians who want to “zero out” their nation’s rail-passenger services. Whose flag shall fall first – Amtrak’s, or Via Rail Canada’s?

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  28. Robert Wightman
    1 day, 12 hrs ago

    Stan salter says:
    December 8, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    “Just checked Via Rail website. Toronto to Niagara Falls $63.28 return for a weekend. GO transit $17.10 each way. Via does not have a Falls to Toronto on Sunday night so they route you onto GO.”

    But if I pay one way I save money. If I book with via I pay a lot more but still have to take the bus to Burlington and the the GO train to Union. I do not get the VIA experience but pay for it.

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  29. Nick L said:
    Of course, there is the little fact that VIA has had its budget cut by 60% over the past 3 years.

    That was widely reported in the media last February and was repeated by opposition politicians. Similar figures appeared in a policy paper released by Unifor two weeks ago.

    That number is completely wrong. It results from comparing the federal government’s Main Estimates for the current fiscal year with the totals from Main and Supplementary Estimates from previous years. It ignores the added funds appropriated in this year’s Supplementary Estimates. If we include them, we get the following for the total government funding of VIA:

    2008-09 $343,065,000
    2009-10 $476,917,000
    2010-11 $523,721,000
    2011-12 $556,309,000
    2012-13 $475,651,000
    2013-14 $439,383,000

    Another round of Supplementary Estimates is still to come for 2013-14, so the last figure above could increase.

    Most of the decrease in the past two years (and the increase in previous years) has been in capital funding, as several major projects have been winding down. Operating funding has not decreased by much.

    That’s not to suggest that VIA is in robust good health. It’s anything but.

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  30. Some comments on the “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” that I saw in 10 weeks in Europe.

    Good:

    Most regional lines ran with EMU or DMU equipment on a regular headway. These were often low floor articulated vehicles, usually 4 or 5 trucks with raised ares over the trucks. These could be coupled together quickly to increase capacity.
    There were plenty of automated ticket machines in most places to sell you a regional ticket or to recharge your ride card.
    Trains operated with minimal crews, 1 or 2 persons, with roving ticket inspectors. Italy seemed to do this best because they would saturate a train so you could not escape them.
    High speed trains were usually very high speed, 250 km/h in Italy and 320 km/h in France. These operated on regular intervals. I preferred the Italian trains because they were single level and allowed more room for passengers and for boarding. The steps up to the upper level on the French trains were tight if you had luggage. The coaches also seemed more cramped.
    Station platforms were usually very wide with lots of stairs, escalators and lifts.
    Poland’s new platforms and stations are amazing. Platforms are 11 m wide, stations are modern, well lit and roomy. In both Krakow and Katowice there was a huge mall integrated with the station along with suburban bus, local bus and tram/metro stops.
    Polish train crews. Because of a storm in Hungary our train was late getting into Poland and we missed our connection. The crew found the next train for us and told us where to catch it without being able to speak English. When our train got in earlier than predicted the conductor came running after us and took us to a train that was about to leave saving us an extra hour.
    Most former Soviet block countries are doing massive upgrades of the railway infrastructure and rolling stock.
    Most stations had an equipment layout showing where each car would be on the platform. Unfortunately the trains were not always in the right order nor did hey always stop in the assigned sectors.

    Bad:

    Station signage in many areas was poor as you had different track and platform numbers and you had loading sectors also. When they gave this to you correctly it was good but it was often backwards.
    Most of Europe use versions of the same apparatus that GO uses for handicap passengers. Polish Rail has ramps similar to GO’s for wheel chair and scooter users.
    Many stations use the platform for storing and servicing trains thus requiring long walks to distant platforms.
    Lack of consistent platform assignments for similar types of trains to the same destination.
    Lack of a standard method for numbering platforms.
    Station stops in France had to be long enough to allow half of the passengers time to get off, have a smoke and get back on. You do not want to be on the platform when the TGV is loading.

    Ugly:

    Poland’s soviet era EMU regional stock is amongst the ugliest I have see, but it worked well.
    Graffiti on many trains, station areas and rights of way.
    The speed of Polish trains between Krakow and Katowice because of the complete rehabilitation of the rights of way. I was on train 36102; it never exceeded 36 km/h for 102 minutes. I wonder if that is how they got the train number.

    I was most impressed by the Italian operations, especially their high speed trains and of the upgrades going on in Poland. If you get a chance to go there, do so. Some countries still seem to be using the railways to provide jobs, especially ex Soviet block countries, so there is much room to improve efficiency.

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  31. @ Nick L:

    I was at Brampton GO/VIA station today and miracle of miracles; VIA has replaced the station agent with a ticket machine. It sits right in front of the ticket wicket, takes cards and has a phone to talk to someone. Perhaps VIA is moving into the 20th century finally; now if they would only get into the 21st century.

    I “tried” to buy a ticket to Ottawa as a test. It kept putting me on the early GO trains to get to Union for my connection. There were later GO trains but it ignored them. It timed me out before I could figure out all its options. I wonder if VIA knows that GO is not conducive to baggage in the rush hour?

    I know it is not nice to talk about eliminating jobs near Christmas but if VIA is going to survive it needs to trim costs or a lot more people will be out of a job. If they remove agents at Brampton, Guelph, Stratford and St. Mary then they will save over $200,000 a year which could help to fund the trains.

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  32. Robert Wightman said:

    I “tried” to buy a ticket to Ottawa as a test. It kept putting me on the early GO trains …

    VIA is run from Montreal, and whoever programmed the VIA – GO connections in their reservations system doesn’t seem to understand Toronto area geography. If you try to buy a ticket from Burlington to London, it has you transfer at Toronto Union, instead of at Aldershot.

    If they remove agents at Brampton, Guelph, Stratford and St. Mary then they will save over $200,000 a year which could help to fund the trains.

    VIA has already removed the agents at Brampton, Guelph and Stratford. I’m not sure of the situation at St. Marys, but I think the agent there is a third-party (town?) employee, not VIA.

    Since last year, VIA has also removed agents in Sarnia, Chatham, Woodstock, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Aldershot, Guildwood, Cornwall, Alexandria, Coteau, St. Lambert, St. Hyacinthe and Drummondville, plus many stations outside the Quebec – Windsor corridor. The Charny agent is likely going to be eliminated next month. Others here will know the situation in Kitchener better than I, but if I understand correctly, the same agent there now sells both GO and VIA tickets.

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  33. Tom Box wrote:

    VIA is run from Montreal, and whoever programmed the VIA – GO connections in their reservations system doesn’t seem to understand Toronto area geography.

    That’s for sure. I seem to recall that in the early days of online booking, one could book a ticket from Toronto Union to Oakville and get an itinerary via London (for the price of the Toronto-Oakville ride!). Forgive my failing memory, but it may have been Tom that I heard this from.

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  34. What is GO Transit’s current fleet situation?

    I ask because I wonder if GO will ever end up with a surplus of Bi-level carriages … through retirement or a change in GO’S service model … that could be refurbished for use by VIA.

    If VIA has no problem running 1970s and 1980s equipment then GO Bi-Level carriages from the 1980s could work fine with new seating and amenities. West Coast Express has a coffee bar on their trains and seating cannot be terribly hard to change.

    If VIA doesn’t want the carriages I’m sure GO will have no trouble selling them to AMT (especially with that new proposed line) or the growing commuter rail market in the US.

    I certainly agree that VIA needs to change … right now they are not a transport option for many people because of their schedules and slow service.

    Of course, I have personally only taken 2 VIA trains (a return trip with my father to Brantford) and three 1-way trips on the International (using Amtrak equipment) before it shut down … so my experience isn’t a fair approximation of the typical VIA passenger experience. I did notice a marked difference between Amtrak and VIA crews though … and the two hour delay at the border with the change over and TPAP inspections.

    Cheers, Moaz

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