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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Slow Train Coming

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Vancouver Courier

And I am slow in catching up on this. I found it thanks to Transport 2000 Canada’s regular news round up. My Google alert for Vancouver +Transportation missed it.

Robert Alstead takes a journey north by rail from California and wonders if Canada’s vanished passenger trains will once again carry us from coast to coast

It is a sizeable slab of text with 6 web pages. Perhaps the best bit is the continuing story of the absence of the second train from Vancouver to  Seattle, and the apparent lack of concern from both province and the feds. Well, Gordon got his photo op last year and the siding is built.  My friend Dave Olson is quoted (in his professional capacity) and rubbishes the current “train bus” arrangement.

We really are being left behind. The rest of the world long ago realised that passenger trains will be increasingly important in a post peak oil, need to get the greenhouse gases down, there’s better ways than flying or driving world. We are stuck with this 1950s mentality. Trains are for museums. Kansas City can raise funds to restore Union Station as a “visitor experience” and a place for banquets (there seems to be a lot of demand for those still) but not seemingly for good quality public transport. Even of the current LRT proposal does get through the ballot, it will only serve the Missouri side, not the Kansas side, of the metropolis. Seattle is building one of the most expensive light rails schemes anywhere. But we cannot get a day time ride from here to there. There are no trains to Calgary – or Whistler – except the expensive tourist versions. And only three trains a week to the Rest of Canada.

For Shame

The Canadian at Pacific Central

The Canadian at Pacific Central

Written by Stephen Rees

October 25, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Railway

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9 Responses

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  1. I thought Elizabeth May did a fair bit to highlight this issue during the federal campaign. With the price of oil being what it is (and I don’t just mean the dollar cost), alternatives like this absolutely must be considered in the future.

    Great blog, by the way. Looking forward to exploring your archives.

    Tenth To The Fraser

    October 25, 2008 at 10:04 pm

  2. Quote:

    “Seattle is building one of the most expensive light rails schemes anywhere”.

    Quite true, but one must remember that Seattle’s LRT is built to a ‘light-metro’ standard, with miles and miles of viaduct and/or subway tunnels. It has more in common with SkyTrain than with real LRT, even though there is some on-street operation (mostly in non-white areas!).

    Also, the Americans quote the total cost of the transit system, including debt servicing costs over a 40 to 50 year period, something that we do not do! The monorail project came to grief because the proponents played fast an loose with the total costs and just dealt with the direct costs. If we used the total costs the Evergreen Line, instead of direct costs, it would rival Seattle’s light-metro in cost per km.

    Malcolm J.

    October 25, 2008 at 10:30 pm

  3. I see that the Talgo no longer runs from Vancouver to Seattle, pity, it was a great ride. Instead, is just a typical Amtrak lash-up; that being said, I understand the ridership on the route is about 90% full. I could never understand why the second train terminated in Bellingham? Certainly the wee bit of new track work needed is more sop to BN/SF than anything else.

    What is needed in Canada is:
    1) Double track the Grandview cut
    2) Fence the route through Whiterock and increase train speeds to at least 80 kph on that stretch or track.
    3) A new multi track Fraser River Rail Bridge.

    And please don’t mention the ‘tunnel’, it’s just not going to be built, nor is a new high-speed rail route from the USA to Canada.

    Malcolm J.

    October 26, 2008 at 6:35 am

  4. Via Rail is obligated to run by Transport Canada. Transport Canada owns Via Rail. It was against the better wishes of C.P.R. that passenger service be dicontinued on their tracks in 1990.
    However with C.N. Rail up for sale the more costs cut the better it looks for the buyer. Needless to say with Via 800 million in the red, and Mulroney annoncing a “get rid of the debt campaign” in 1988, Via was penalized by Benoit Bouchard Minister of Transport, who appointed Ron Lawless to become C.E.O of both CN and Via in 1989.
    In 1988 the chairman of Via, the Minister of Transport for the Parti-Quebecois was fired, for putting his intrests in Quebec ahead of the rest of Canada. He claimed in 1986 Via was billed by C.N. of 800 million for the Hinton Disaster Because C.N. counted us as a contractor. UH!!! How can you point at one Crown Corporation pointing at another. Via has no legislation to protect it from C.N.
    So Lawless slashed Via passenger trains by 65% in 1990 and cut staff by the same. To make things equal by 1991 he had more C.N. employees on early retirement than working. 7,235 employees who could not protect themselves because of Mulroney passing “back to work” legislation were the only employees that year in Canada that were discriminated against by an equal opportunity employer.
    The results were 3 trains a week for Via on CN track using The Canadian the old C.P. flagship of 1952 vintage.
    The C.N. dayniter fleet made for Expo 67 in Montreal out of old sleepers in Transcona shops were given to Peter Armstrong, former head of Hotel Vancouver owned
    by C.N. by non railway arm Presdident Charles Armstrong. The Via Rocky Mountaineer of 1988 was now in the semi-private hands of The Rocky Mountaineer group. Via had to maintain it for five years free, 1990 1995. In 1990 The Minister of Transport also cut Vias budget from 600 million a year to 1.5 million over the same period. It was a shot at privitizing all passenger services. After 1995 Armstrong was in Kamloops well away from Via Rail.
    In 1994 Terry Ivany, Via President threatened to shut down Vancouver and just run the Corridor after shutting down Toronto the year before. In1995 Amtrack shows up to run a daily train out of the new bus/ train depot with Via. Via stays in, but says all those busses stop where we do, so whats the use.
    In 1995 “another back to work order” this time by the Liberals so C.N. could be sold in that year.
    The union claimed there was nobody to order back, they went on early retirement. Via claimed with C.N. sold it had to go at it alone as the only Crown Corporation left in the business. Finally with
    all arbitrator settlements in “by-out and early pension packages were given to all Via employees with 85 points. age 55, plus years of service equals 85.
    By 1999, all the experienced people had taken there packages, which was another 650 or more. It was either face unfair demerits with no protection, or take it and go. Useing demerits to descriminate against workers, was the result of 10 consecutive years of back to work legislation. No other Canadian Company or work sector was so unjustly singled out
    by the Canadian Government.

    If you want your damn trains back across Canada the railway workers wonder why those who complain now weren’t there when you were needed. It seemed most Canadians did not care despite a 1992-1995 Federal Transportation study after the fact that contradicted the Conservative cuts, and the Liberals did the damn thing. There are many Via employees who did not want to retire, and being it was passed in Parliament, you could get fired outright for disobeyiong the law.
    In both “back to work orders” it was brought on by Government cutbacks, which proves they were chicken in the first place to take us on. Equal right s dictated fair bargaining, and strike action or lock outs, but this ended the public passenger trains and the people who enjoyed running it.
    Bryan Vogler

    Bryan Vogler

    October 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  5. I’ve been on the Cascades to Seattle twice this year and enjoyed the trip on the train. The arrival time in Seattle and the early morning departure back to Vancouver are not convenient for people from Vancouver but the train was still popular.

    I’m not sure why this simple issue of getting approval from CBSA has to take 6 months!? We need to get more awareness of this issue.

    I’ve put a link to the Courier article on the BC chapter of Transport 2000 web site.

    Great blog Stephen, keep up the good work.

    Matthew Buchanan

    October 26, 2008 at 9:53 pm

  6. There is a fence installed along the promenade in White Rock, though people still jump it.

    David Banks

    October 28, 2008 at 1:31 pm

  7. What is needed, and needed now, is the fence to be removed that the private tour train operators like Rocky Mountaineer erect that prevent govt.-run services like Via Rail to return to practical routes. The politics surrounding this is mind boggling. I have personally travelled and spoken with the mayors along the CPR route thru Revelstoke, Golden, Banff, etc, where Via USED to run, and the private tour operator(ROCKY MT.-EAR)is connected politically I am told. Connectted to whom you ask ?? To BC’s Gordon Campbell, amongst others. THIS IS WHAT IS PREVENTING VIA FROM RETURNING TO THIS ROUTE ! Its called big money, and connections to those influential politicians that can sway decisions. Until this stops, nothing new will happen for Via Rail. How this occurrs in a [somewhat] still-Socialist Canada in 2009 is absolutely insane !!!


    January 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm

  8. Rocky Mountaineer is not a passenger rail service in the conventional sense. It is a tourist service. It does not compete directly with VIA. VIA chose to use the Yellowhead route as it was easier to operate – but their scheduling is still ridiculously out of date. It is the same on the E&N – they simply do not want passenger service to succeed. I do not know that RM has “exclusive” rights to their routes but the simple fact is governments gave up both voluntarily (Whistler and Kamloops)

    Stephen Rees

    January 5, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  9. I’m sorry that you dont seem to know what REALLY is going on in regards to the extent Rocky Mountaineer will go to to monopolize certain routes. Do you know what occurred in Salmon Arm last year ?? At a council meeting to just LOOK into the possibility of having passenger service return thru that town, there was a group from Kamloops there that OPPOSED it ! WHY WOULD ANYONE OPPOSE A RETURN TO A SAFE, AFFORDABLE SERVICE SUCH AS VIA ?? I’ll tell you why…because Rocky is afraid it will lose passengers, EVEN THOUGH, AS YOU STATE, IT IS A DIFFERENT SERVICE OFFERED ! Another example, as I found near Golden, B.C. just two years ago, when I called a new ski hill that had recently opened near there and asked why they were not courting VIA Rail’s return, as a means to attract MORE tourists to their ski hill, guess the reply? “Most of our customers come by car”! Can you imagine? Who wouldnt want MORE paying customers? Again, in research since that call, it was found that Rocky Moutaineer brass have connections to that very ski hill. I wish I was making this up but I am not! You should do some research yourself on this….its really no secret that Rocky DESPISES Via Rail, and would like nothing else than to see them vanish. Finally, to hammer my point home, a travel and trade symposium 3 years ago in Vancouver had Rocky Mountaineer staff wearing buttons with “Via Rail” on it, with a big red line thru it, just like a no parking sign !! I found THIS out from some caterer’s there that wouldnt know one train service from another !! So yes my friend, politics, and certainly dirty tricks play a part in all of this. Do NOT ever disregard the lengths comapnies can and do flex their political affiliations when it comes to possessing what they THINK is theirs. Trouble is, its not theirs, it should be for ALL Canadians to enjoy as a safe, affordable, not the least historic, means of travelling across Canada, or just from one town to another. BTW, if you still doubt what i say, I have several examples of how close (in bed?)the head of Rocky Mountaineer (Peter Armstrong) is with B.C.’s premier Gordon Campbell. No influence there I guess! I’d be more than happy to share those with you….


    January 8, 2009 at 12:57 am

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