ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – While VIA Rail relentlessly pushes a multi-billion-dollar scheme for its Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto route and the federal government promotes more air travel, the reliability of Southwestern Ontario’s rail passenger system continues its long decline.
“VIA’s on-time performance in October was abysmal,” says Chris West of the All Aboard St. Marys citizens’ committee. “But a recovery plan isn’t on the agenda at VIA headquarters or in Ottawa. When it comes to passenger trains, all of their attention is on a dreamy proposal to build a freight-free route from Montreal to Ottawa and Toronto years from now. Even if that were practical and affordable, it would do nothing for Southwestern Ontarians.”
Throughout October, All Aboard St. Marys monitored the on-time performance of VIA’s North Main Line trains, which serve St. Marys and six other communities between London and Toronto. Of the 124 trains operated on the North Main Line, none arrived on time and 16 were delayed by more than an hour. A list of these delays is included in this release.
Says West, “This is part of a pattern of deterioration we’ve suffered for years. VIA’s schedules have been repeatedly stretched out, with the travel times growing longer and longer, but this still hasn’t been enough to compensate for a host of problems afflicting the North Main Line.”
Analysis of the delays on a station-to-station basis reveals most are not occurring due to heavy freight traffic on the CN segment between Bramalea and Georgetown, but on the lightly-used track west of Kitchener.
“Track deterioration is the biggest culprit,” says West. “The Goderich-Exeter Railway leases this line segment from CN for lower-speed freight service and they can’t afford to improve it to meet the higher standards required for passenger trains. VIA needs to provide the funding to restore the line to a condition that supports faster and more reliable passenger service.”
In 2009, a previous VIA management team produced a plan in conjunction with GO Transit to fully upgrade the North Main Line’s infrastructure, rebuild several mothballed self-propelled passenger cars and operate six Toronto-St. Marys-London trains in each direction at higher speeds. The plan was scrapped by the next government-appointed VIA board and CEO. While GO has been upgrading the Toronto-Kitchener portion for its commuter trains, VIA has only installed some new signals between Kitchener and London.
Says West, “VIA spent $28 million on signals without upgrading the tracks. That’s like doing a costly refinishing job on a piece of furniture that’s been hollowed out by termites. Signalling can only help to boost the speed and reliability if the track is improved. It’s totally illogical.”
All Aboard St. Marys places the responsibility on the federal government, which hasn’t provided the funding and strategic direction VIA requires to deliver useful, reliable and efficient service. Instead, Ottawa has commissioned a three-year study of VIA’s Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto dedicated-track scheme and allotted some money to repair a few stations and yard facilities. Worse, the government recently unveiled a new national transportation policy calling for increased foreign ownership of Canada’s airlines to allegedly lower fares and boost air travel.
“How can we reconcile this with the government’s commitment to the Paris COP21 accord?” asks West. “Encouraging environmentally-punishing air service instead of investing in efficient passenger trains will only contribute to more climate change. Nor will it do anything for smaller communities that aren’t and can’t be served by air. We need more trains that run faster – and are on time – if we’re going to fight climate change and connect communities large and small.”
All Aboard St. Marys will continue to fight for improvements to the North Main Line and across the VIA system. The group will also be taking its concerns about this situation to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, his policy advisors and other elected officials in Ottawa.
For more information, please contact:
All Aboard St. Marys firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 519 284-3310
Fax: 519 284-3160
Toll Free: 1-866-862-5632 Ext. 238
Visit us at www.allaboardstmarys.ca