March 24, 2016 — VIA Rail and the Federal Budget: More repairs, more studies, but no service improvements yet

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VIA Rail and the Federal Budget: More repairs, more studies, but no service improvements yet

ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – The release of the 2016 Federal Budget on March 23 provided some much-needed encouragement for those who believe VIA Rail Canada requires serious attention from Ottawa, says the Save VIA citizens’ advocacy group.

“The good news is that VIA didn’t take a hit,” says Save VIA’s Chris West. “Compared with what we’ve seen in years gone by, that’s a definite improvement. The budget also includes funding for projects that at least indicate the new government is paying attention to the concerns of the many Canadians who depend on VIA, such as the citizens of St. Marys. But it still fails to deliver what is needed most, namely overdue increases in the frequency of VIA’s current service.”

The new funding provided for rail passenger service in the 2016 Federal Budget includes:

  • $34 million for improvements to stations and train maintenance centres; and
  • $7.7 million for grade crossing upgrades on VIA-owned lines, station security improvements, and studies and pre-procurement activities related to VIA’s fleet

Says West, “These investments have potential long-term benefits, but they won’t produce more and better service any time soon on the route through St. Marys or elsewhere in Southwestern Ontario. Nonetheless, when you combine this $41.7 million with the $102 million the previous government announced just before the election for the Montreal-Ottawa route, it will help get VIA up to a better state of repair. The attention to the fleet issue is vital because VIA’s aging collection of cars and locomotives remains one of the biggest impediments to making its service more competitive, more frequent and more affordable.”

Also encouraging, says West, is the inclusion in the budget of $3.3 million over three years for the federal government to conduct its own in-depth analysis of VIA’s $4-billion high-frequency rail (HFR) proposal. Save VIA has had concerns about this scheme from the outset because it would only cover the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto route and it would bypass several major communities now served by VIA, including Oshawa, Cobourg, Belleville, Kingston and Brockville.

“The government has wisely chosen to not let VIA conduct its own review of its own proposal,” says West. “This HFR idea has pre-occupied VIA management for nearly two years and it has consistently been portrayed as a ‘silver bullet’ for the railway’s multiple problems. But it would eat up most of VIA’s budget for several years and it wouldn’t improve service west of Toronto or east of Montreal. The government appears to be proceeding cautiously and responsibly on this.”

As an alternative to both VIA’s HFR proposal and a Toronto-Windsor high-speed rail plan now being studied by the Government of Ontario, Save VIA is endorsing the high-performance rail (HPR) option that was presented on March 4, 2016, in St. Marys by Transport Action Ontario. Proven on several Amtrak corridors in the U.S. and numerous others around the world, HPR has the potential to improve VIA’s entire seven-route Quebec-Windsor Corridor system faster and at a more reasonable cost than the other two proposals.

The Transport Action Ontario HPR brochure and discussion paper are available at:

“Save VIA encourages the government to seriously consider the HPR option as part of its own $3.3-million study of VIA’s HFR proposal,” says West. “As well, we will continue to call for near- term improvements to VIA’s three Southwestern Ontario routes. We believe there are low-cost steps that could enable VIA to make better use of its existing fleet and facilities. The result would be increased service sooner, rather than later – and at an affordable price that is within the government’s budget.”

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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