August 1, 2016 — Feds are going off the rails on passenger train policy

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Feds are going off the rails on passenger train policy

ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – Despite the hope that the election of a new government almost a year ago might bring a new day for Canada’s rail passenger system, the Save VIA citizens’ committee has come to the conclusion that Ottawa is already off the rails in its approach to the issue.

“We’ve seen nothing that can be called real progress to date,” says Save VIA’s Chris West. “Worse, we were amazed by a statement made by Minister of Transport Marc Garneau in Sault Ste. Marie on July 20, when he axed the federal grant for the suspended Algoma Central passenger train between the Soo and Hearst. He said it was not going to be funded by his ministry partially because it would not be self-sustaining. If this is how our current government views rail passenger service, then we’re obviously going to have to launch a political attitude- adjustment program we could refer to as Rail Passenger Service 101.”

As Save VIA points out, there isn’t a single rail passenger system anywhere in the world that operates at a profit. This is because governments globally have funded the competing forms of transportation for decades and never demanded full cost recovery from them. Other nations accept this fact and use public funds to operate modern and effective passenger railways as part of their balanced transportation systems.

Says West, “The MPs ought to have a chat with Canada’s most knowledgeable and experienced rail passenger professional. That’s former Amtrak president David Gunn, who lives on Cape Breton Island. In a career spanning more than 40 years with major railways and transit agencies, he repeatedly explained the basics to politicians who incorrectly thought there was a magic formula to make passenger trains profitable in the face of publicly-funded competition.”

In 2002, when certain politicians were looking to axe Amtrak because it didn’t meet the same kind of profitability test now being applied to Canada’s passenger trains, Gunn told the U.S. Congress why such an approach was naive, at best. Gunn called this his Six Myths About Amtrak. Two of them are most relevant to the discussion here in Canada today.

Said Gunn, the first myth is that passenger trains can be profitable. He pointed out, “No national rail passenger system in the world is profitable. Without public subsidy, there will be no passenger rail transportation systems….”

As for the myth that the private sector will take over intercity rail service, Gunn asked, “Do you remember why we were formed? We are what is left of a once privately-run enterprise.”

Says West, “If our new government doesn’t heed the intelligent points made years ago by Mr. Gunn, there will be no Canadian passenger trains. All of the sunny words emanating from Ottawa about how the government believes in rail passenger service and how they’re studying the matter do not reassure the residents of St. Marys, who have no other form of public transport and our quite happy to see some of their tax dollars used wisely to support the trains on which they depend.”

Save VIA also points out that the application of a self-sustainability test for the provision of numerous public services would not just eliminate rail passenger service, but many other programs essential to a civilized and competitive society.

Says West, “If that test were applied to schools, health care, emergency services, libraries, urban transit, highways, airports, parks and government itself, they’d all be scrapped. None of these show a profit, yet no rational Canadian would suggest cutting them. So, why should rail passenger service be treated any differently?”

In the days ahead, Save VIA will be asking MPs of the Trudeau government and their opposition colleagues where they stand on this vital issue. Their responses will be made public by Save VIA.

For more information, please contact:

Chris West,
Save VIA
Box 1197 449 Queen St. W
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B7 [email protected]
Tel: 519 284 3310 :Fax: 519 284 3160 Sans frais/toll free 1-866-8632 ext 238


BOX 1197 449 QUEEN STREET WEST ST. MARYS, ONTARIO N4X 1B7 TELEPHONE (519) 284-3310 FACSIMILE (519) 284-3160

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