FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JUNE 19, 2015
VIA Rail in St. Marys: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
St. Marys Town Hall was the site of a meeting with VIA Rail Canada CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano on Tuesday, June 16, following the unveiling of his proposed plan for Southwestern Ontario rail passenger improvements at a Stratford Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The meeting included Mayor Al Strathdee, Deputy Mayor Carey Pope, Chris West and Greg Gormick of Save VIA, plus newly-hired VIA government and public affairs staff. The elected officials and Save VIA obtained a commitment from VIA for the installation of a lift for mobility devices at the municipally-owned St. Marys Station.
In a follow-up letter to the VIA CEO, Mayor Strathdee said, “An accessible lift would be a great asset to this community. We are constantly trying to improve our service with limited resources, and always appreciate any assistance. We will continue to promote VIA in our town and the surrounding area.”
The VIA CEO congratulated St. Marys on buying, restoring and staffing the town’s station. He says he will be using it as a role model, encouraging towns and cities nationwide to do the same to reduce VIA’s station costs. He also wants communities to do more to fill VIA’s trains.
On a less encouraging note, the St. Marys and Save VIA representatives learned a proposed early-morning train to Toronto will operate only as far west as Stratford; those who wish to use it will have to drive to Stratford. As well, no definitive answer was received from VIA as to whether replacement trains will be provided on the North Main Line through St. Marys when trains #84 and #87 are shifted to the South Main Line through Woodstock, as VIA has proposed.
Said Save VIA’s Chris West, “While we’re pleased with VIA’s commitment to improve access at the St. Marys Station, we are concerned by the potential loss of either of our current roundtrip services, which we feel are below the acceptable minimum level now. We’ll keep impressing upon VIA the need to not just maintain, but expand our service with additional Toronto-St. Marys-London trains.”
West said he was disappointed to learn the proposed VIA service changes have no firm start dates. If implemented, all would kick in after the election. As well, he noted that the proposed trains have to operate over the tracks of CN, but VIA revealed that discussions concerning track access haven’t occurred.
Reservations about VIA’s proposed plans were expressed by Save VIA’s Greg Gormick, who joined the campaign on a professional basis on May 19. Gormick, who West describes as “Canada’s premier rail policy adviser and consultant,” noted that every VIA CEO serves strictly at the pleasure of the government that hires them. As well, the entire VIA board – which the VIA CEO called “balanced” because it consists of five men and five women – is composed of political appointees lacking any real-world railway experience.
“I’m still gravely concerned about the future of VIA, which has always been financially starved, under-capitalized and politically hamstrung,” said Gormick. “VIA lives or dies at the whim of any government because it has no protective legislation, unlike Amtrak in the U.S. As is often said by my colleague and former Amtrak president David Gunn, ‘I’ve seen this movie before and you’re not going to like the ending unless you make some changes now.’”
Thanks to MPs Irene Mathyssen (London – Fanshawe), Philip Toone (Gaspésie – Îles-de-la- Madeleine) and Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay – Superior North), Gormick spent June 9 and 10 in Ottawa engaging more than 30 NDP and Green Party MPs in encouraging discussions on VIA’s future, Save VIA’s work in St. Marys and the urgent need for a plan to revive and reform VIA once and for all. Contact has also been made with local candidates of all parties, who have pledged their personal support for the proper funding, legislation, management and operation of VIA. To date, only the NDP and Green Party leadership have offered written commitments of their intention to fix VIA, if elected.
Said West, “Greg was engaged by Save VIA because of his political and media connections, as well as his extensive experience in the rail industry. We have encouraged him to notch up his efforts in any way he sees fit to make our elected officials and candidates understand the importance that we in St. Marys – and Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific to Hudson Bay – attach to our need for a modern, safe and efficient VIA that provides a proper level of service.”
This current wave of Save VIA activities is described by West as “the voting phase” of the campaign and will escalate as the federal election draws near. Public events in St. Marys and more outreach work in Ottawa will be announced by Save VIA in the weeks to come.
Box 1197 449 Queen St. W
St. Marys, ON N4X 1B7 [email protected] www.savevia.ca
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