Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘VIA Rail

“so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit,”

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The title is a direct quote from Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who is the CEO of VIA Rail. The story comes from the Huffington Post citing the Financial Post and the Windsor Star. It sets out the case for a separate passenger only railway between Toronto and Montreal, which would significantly increase the speed and reliability of rail service but would not be as expensive a full blown High Speed Rail (HSR). Given the financial position of VIA, and the nature of the demand in the corridor, this proposal would be Good Enough. HSR is a good example of the best being the enemy of the good.  It has been studied extensively – I worked on one such study as a consultant back in the 1990’s – and so far nothing has been done in terms of improving VIA rail’s current service or winning people back to rail from short distance air or driving. It did surprise me, when I first came to Canada, that intercity buses were often faster than passenger trains.

It pains me a little that electrification is still seen as a dispensable option but actually I have to admit that a modern diesel electric locomotive  can be very energy efficient. I just happen to think that since Ontario has done such a good job of getting rid of its coal fired power stations, the greenhouse gas reduction argument should be given much more weight. There are also a couple of considerable advantages of an electric train. First, electric trains can climb much better than diesels: they don’t weigh nearly as much, as they don’t have to carry the generator or the fuel. So lines purpose built for modern electric trains can have steeper grades, and often that means they can be straighter, which also helps increase speeds. Secondly, the energy used in braking can be captured and returned to the power supply line for the the use of other trains. Regenerative braking captures a lot of the energy that is otherwise lost as heat. Electric trains can also decelerate and accelerate much better than diesels, so dealing with intermediate stops is not such an issue in overall travel time. I would hope that the design of intermediate stations would permit fast trains to pass stationary ones, so that even if it is not actual HSR, there could still be some non-stop service between the two major centres, to improve  competitiveness with air. However, given the way that the population is distributed across sprawling suburbs, centre to centre may not be the most important tool to attract traffic. Large Park and Ride lots, on the other hand, will be essential.

I have not seen any of the analysis that VIA has used to come up with the costs of its proposed separate line compared to a HSR, but there has to be a lot in common between the two. Land costs will be very similar, I think. It also seems sensible to eliminate level crossings – and to fence the entire line – just to increase safety.  You have to do that for HSR, but if those components were omitted for a conventional speed line that might explain some of the price difference.  While I am in favour of getting the costs down, this would seem to me to be very hard to defend when it comes to public consultation.

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core’

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The following is a Press Release from Transport Action BC. I am a member of that organization. Since I have no faith at all that this story will be picked up by our mainstream media, it is reproduced here in its entirety

VIA8702 Assiniboine Park dome car Vancouver BC 2005_0112

VIA Rail’s Canadian at Vancouver

Transport Action BC calls VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core’
‘Death by a thousand cuts’ continues while hundreds of millions invested in VIA’s renewal

KAMLOOPS, JUNE 27, 2012 – Matthew Buchanan, president of the public transportation users and advocacy group, Transport Action BC, said that today’s announcement of yet more cuts to Canada’s nationwide rail passenger service is wrong and inexplicable given this federal government’s recent investment of $923 million in a renewal of VIA Rail Canada’s trains, stations and other assets.

“While the rest of the G20 nations invest heavily and wisely in expanding their rail passenger services, Canada’s longstanding policy of cutting VIA continues,” said Buchanan.

“These cuts are wrong to the core and the destructiveness of this latest round will soon become apparent, much to the detriment of the more than four million passengers who use VIA annually.”

In 2009, VIA began receiving $923 million for the largest capital renewal program in its 35-year history. Transport Action BC applauded that wise decision, especially the leadership role played by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, who are strong supporters of public transportation, in general, and VIA, in particular. Some of the investments in that capital renewal package are now being undermined by cuts to the very trains they were meant to benefit.

Respected sources, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, have determined that every dollar invested in rail projects yields three to four dollars of economic spin-off, not to mention vast social and environmental benefits. Furthermore, VIA’s public funding for its national network of passenger trains costs the average taxpayer only $1.60 per month – less than the cost of a large cup of coffee.

“We can only believe today’s shocking announcement is part of the usual Ottawa game,” said Buchanan. “From the day it was born as a publicly-owned Crown corporation in 1977, VIA has been under attack by high-ranking civil servants at Transport Canada, Treasury Board and Finance. They have engaged in a 35-year campaign that can only be described as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ It appears these civil servants have once again misled the elected officials who have championed VIA and convinced them this is the right track to take. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The cuts – which are being portrayed by VIA as “the next phase of its modernization project” – will severely and negatively affect the following routes:

  • The Canadian (Toronto-Vancouver) cut from three trains weekly to two from the end of October until April each year;
  • The Ocean (Montreal-Halifax) reduced from six times weekly to three, cutting VIA service to Atlantic Canada in half;
  • Montreal-Ottawa;
  • Toronto-Stratford-London;
  • London-Sarnia;
  • London-Windsor; and
  • Toronto-Niagara Falls.

Deeper cuts will occur next year and in 2014, as VIA’s operating budget is reduced further.

As a result of this announcement and the continuing threat to VIA, Transport Action Canada and its five regional associations will soon be launching A National Dream Renewed: The VIA Rail Canada Town Hall Workshops. Directed and facilitated by well-known Toronto transportation writer and policy advisor Greg Gormick, the interactive presentation will cross Canada from Halifax to Vancouver Island to engage Canadians in a series of 40 workshops that will lead to the production of Transport Action’s blueprint for the re-establishment of VIA as a modern, innovative, sustainable and national rail passenger service.

Said Buchanan, “We call upon all Canadians to attend our town hall workshops and voice their opinions and ideas on how VIA can finally become one of our national dreams again, instead of the national nightmare that successive governments have made of it.”

Buchanan also noted that this government is calling its latest approach to economic stimulation “Staying on the Right Track for Jobs and Growth.” He added, “These cuts amount to taking the wrong track, if job creation and growth of the Canadian economy are the objectives. Cutting rail passenger service reduces jobs and undermines economic growth.”

Transport Action BC and four other regional associations in Atlantic Canada, Québec (Transport 2000 Québec), Ontario, and the Prairies, is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is research, public education and consumer advocacy. It promotes environmentally-sound transportation solutions and gets actively involved in a wide range of issues, such as public transportation, safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, environmental protection, intermodal co-operation and government regulation.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Railway

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‘Wrong way’ rail may be righted

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VIA6148 Victoria Stn BC Oct 1994

Times Colonist

The E&N Rail Dayliner could soon be turned around — starting up-Island in the morning and heading south from Nanaimo into Victoria for its first run of the day instead of the other way around.

“It’s something we’re definitely working on,” said Graham Bruce, executive director of the Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the rail line. “There’s a number of pieces to make this all work together. I think it’s quite plausible.”

Bruce said the change could take place as early as six months from now.

Currently, one 90-passenger car leaves Victoria each morning and travels to Courtenay before making a return trip at the end of the day. Islanders have complained for years that the train is going the wrong way and missing potential commuter traffic.

I will believe it when I see it. VIA Rail has known that this service was needed for at least the last twenty years – and probably a lot longer than that. I have never understood why they have persisted in refusing to run trains when people actually might want to use them. But then VIA rail is even more shambolic than Amtrak.

Actually the ideas are even more creative than the beginning of the story suggests

The idea would be to operate two trains out of Nanaimo. The first might leave at 6 a.m. for the capital region, then turn around for its trip to Courtenay.

A second train could leave Nanaimo shortly after that, carrying another load of people to the capital region, and then operate back and forth between Victoria’s downtown and Langford over the course of the day before heading back to Nanaimo.

Both Backhouse and Bruce say there is potential for excursion rail as well, with one run possibly linking up with a new cruise-ship terminal in Nanaimo and taking people to Cameron Lake.

The bad news is in the tail. There is also a proposal to open up a new coal mine near Union Bay which, if it ships coal for export  could bring significant new rail traffic. That might be good for the railway but it is not at all good for continued human survival on this planet. It is not clear but the way the story is currently put together suggests the coal might cross subsidize the passenger service. This seems somewhat more likely than government actually directing VIA to behave in the public interest.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 29, 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Railway

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