A Via train at the station in London, Ontario.
|Headquarters||Place Ville Marie, Montreal, Quebec|
(President & CEO)
|Revenue||CAD$ 297.8 million (2015)|
|CAD$ -353.4 million (2016)|
|Total assets||CAD$ 1,357 million (2016)|
Number of employees
|Dates of operation||1977–present|
|Predecessor||The passenger rail services offered by CN and CP|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||12,500 km (7,800 mi)|
Via Rail Canada (reporting mark VIA) (//; generally shortened to Via Rail or Via; styled corporately as VIA Rail Canada) is an independent Crown corporation, subsidized by the Minister of Transport, mandated to offer intercity passenger rail services in Canada.
Via Rail operates 475 trains per week in eight Canadian provinces (exceptions are Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island) over a network of 12,500 kilometres (7,800 mi) of track, 98% of which is owned and maintained by other railway companies, mostly by CN and CP. Via Rail carried approximately 3.8 million passengers in 2015, the majority on routes along the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Background
- 1.2 Formation of Via Rail Canada - 1977
- 1.3 Service cuts - 1981
- 1.4 Service restoration - 1985
- 1.5 Service cuts - 1990
- 1.6 Service cuts - 1994
- 1.7 Renaissance funding - 2000-2003
- 1.8 Renaissance II proposal and cancellation - 2003-2004
- 1.9 Service cuts - 2004-2005
- 1.10 Via's role in the sponsorship scandal - 2004
- 1.11 Increasing problems and reinstated funding - 2005-2009
- 1.12 Labour difficulties - 2009-2010
- 1.13 Service cuts - 2011
- 1.14 Service cuts - 2012
- 1.15 Service cuts, 2013
- 1.16 Service restoration, 2014
- 1.17 Service increase, 2015
- 2 Budget and management
- 3 Travelling on Via
- 4 VIAPAQ Courier service
- 5 Routes and connections
- 6 Rolling stock
- 7 Accidents and incidents
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Yearly passenger levels on Canada's passenger trains peaked at 60 million during World War II. Following the war the growth of air travel and the personal automobile caused significant loss of mode share for Canada's passenger train operators. By the 1960s it was obvious to both Canadian National Railway (CN) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) that passenger trains were not economically viable in the current market. The CP sought to divest itself of its trains but federal government regulators and politicians balked, forcing the CP to maintain a minimal service through the 1970s, with the government subsidizing up to 80% of losses. CN, being a Crown corporation at that time, was encouraged by the federal government and political interests to invest in passenger trains. Innovative marketing schemes such as Red, White, and Blue fares, new equipment such as scenic dome cars and rail diesel cars, and services such as Rapido and the UAC TurboTrain trains temporarily increased numbers of passengers, reversing previous declines.:4–5
These increases proved temporary: by 1977 total passenger numbers had dropped beneath five million. The decline of passenger rail became a federal election issue in 1974 when the government of Pierre Trudeau promised to implement a nationwide carrier similar to Amtrak in the United States. Starting in 1976, CN began branding its passenger services with the bilingual name Via or Via CN. The Via logo began to appear on CN passenger locomotives and cars, while still carrying CN logos as well. That September, Via published a single timetable with information on both CN and CP trains, marking the first time that Canadians could find all major passenger trains in one publication. In 1977, CN underwent a dramatic restructuring when it placed various non-core freight railway activities into separate subsidiaries such as ferries under CN Marine and passenger trains under Via Rail which was subsequently renamed Via Rail Canada.:6–9
Formation of Via Rail Canada - 1977
On January 12, 1977, CN spun off its passenger services as a separate Crown corporation, Via Rail Canada. At its inception, Via acquired all CN passenger cars and locomotives. Following several months of negotiation, on October 29, 1978, Via took over operation of CP passenger train services, and took possession of cars and locomotives. Passenger train services which were not included in the creation of Via Rail included those offered by BC Rail, Algoma Central Railway, Ontario Northland Railway, Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, various urban commuter train services operated by CN and CP, and remaining CN passenger services in Newfoundland. At this time, Via did not own any trackage and had to pay right-of-way fees to CN and CP, sometimes being the only user of rural branch lines.
Via initially had a tremendous variety of equipment, with much of it in need of replacement, and operated routes stretching from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Prince Rupert, British Columbia and north to Churchill, Manitoba. Over 150 scheduled trains per week were in operation, including transcontinental services, regional trains, and corridor services.
While Via is an independent federal Crown corporation mandated to operate as a business, it is hindered by the fact that it was created by an Order in Council of the Privy Council, and not from legislation passed by Parliament. If Via were enabled by legislation, the company could be permitted to seek funding on the open money markets as other Crown corporations such as CN have done in the past. It is largely for this reason that critics say Via is vulnerable to federal budget cuts and continues to answer first to its political masters, as opposed to the business decisions needed to ensure the viability of intercity passenger rail service.
Service cuts - 1981
Greater numbers of passengers would not be Via's saviour. In 1981, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government endorsed Minister of Transport Jean-Luc Pépin's plan which cut Via's budget, leading to a 40% reduction in the company's operations. Gone were frequently sold-out trains such as the Super Continental (which reduced Via to operating only one transcontinental train, The Canadian) and the popular Atlantic, among others.
Via also sought to reduce its reliance on over 30-year-old second-hand equipment and placed a significant order with Bombardier Transportation for new high-speed locomotives and cars which would be used in its corridor trains. The LRC (Light, Rapid, Comfortable) locomotives and cars used advanced technology such as active tilt to increase speed, but proved troublesome and took several years to work out problems (by 1990 only a handful of LRC locomotives remained in service which were subsequently retired by the arrival of the GE Genesis locomotives in 2001).
Service restoration - 1985
The election of Brian Mulroney's government in 1984 brought a friend to Via, initially, when several of Mulroney's commitments included rescinding the Via cuts of 1981 by restoring the Super Continental (under pressure from his western caucus), and the Atlantic (under pressure from his eastern caucus and the then-Saint John mayor Elsie Wayne). Prime Minister Mulroney's government gave Via funding to refurbish some of its cars, and purchase new locomotives, this time a more reliable model from General Motors Diesel Division.
It was during this time on February 8, 1986, that Via's eastbound Super Continental collided with a CN freight train near Hinton, Alberta, as a result of the freight train crew missing a signal light. The resulting derailment killed 23 people.
Service cuts - 1990
By the late 1980s, inflation and other rising costs were taking their toll on federal budgets and in the Mulroney government's 1989 budget, Via again saw its budget slashed, surpassing even the 1981 cuts under Trudeau. Minister of Transport Benoît Bouchard oversaw the reduction in service on January 15, 1990, when Via's operations were reduced by 55%.
Services such as the Super Continental were cut again, along with numerous disparate rural services such as in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton Island, western Canada, and in the corridor. The Canadian was also moved from its 'home' rails on CP to the northerly CN route (which the Super Continental had used). The shift to the less-populated (and less scenic) route between Toronto and Vancouver severed major western cities such as Regina and Calgary from the passenger rail network and flared western bitterness toward Ottawa.
The official justification for the rerouting was that the trains would serve more remote communities, but the concentration of ridings held by the Progressive Conservatives along the CN route attracted the charge that the move was chiefly political. Harvie André, one of Alberta's federal cabinet ministers who represented Calgary, stated publicly that he did not care if he never saw a passenger train again in his life.
After these cuts, Via was a much smaller company and immediately took to rationalizing its fleet of cars and locomotives, resulting in a fleet of refurbished stainless steel (HEP-1 and HEP-2 rebuilds, for "head end power") and LRC cars, as well as rationalizing its locomotive fleet with GM and Bombardier (LRC) units.
Service cuts - 1994
Via was not spared from further cutbacks in Jean Chrétien's government elected in 1993. Minister of Finance Paul Martin's first budget in 1994 saw further Via cuts which saw the popular Atlantic dropped from the schedule, focusing the eastern transcontinental service on the Ocean. CP had sold off a large portion of the track the Atlantic had operated on and, as Via at that time was only mandated to provide passenger services on tracks belonging to CN or CP, the route was discontinued.
This move was seen as somewhat controversial and politically motivated as the principal cities benefiting from the Atlantic's service were Sherbrooke, Quebec and Saint John, New Brunswick, where the only two Progressive Conservative Party Members of Parliament in Canada were elected in the 1993 federal election in which Chrétien's Liberal Party took power. The Ocean service which was preserved operates on track between Montreal and Halifax running through the lower St. Lawrence River valley and northern New Brunswick. The Minister of Transport in Chrétien's government at the time, Douglas Young, was elected from a district that included Bathurst, New Brunswick, on the Ocean's route. A remote Via service to Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, the Chaleur was also spared from being cut at this time, despite carrying fewer passengers than the Atlantic.
Renaissance funding - 2000-2003
By the late 1990s, with a rail-friendly Minister of Transport, David Collenette, in office, there were modest funding increases to Via. Corridor services were improved with new and faster trains, a weekly tourist train The Bras d'Or returned Via service to Cape Breton Island for the first time since the 1990 cuts, and a commitment was made to continue operating on Vancouver Island, but western Canada continued to languish with the only service provided by the Canadian and a few remote service trains in northern BC and Manitoba.
In a significant new funding program dubbed "Renaissance", a fleet of unused passenger cars which had been built for planned Nightstar sleeper services between locations in the United Kingdom and Continental Europe, via the Channel Tunnel, were purchased and adapted following the cancellation of the Nightstar project. The new "Renaissance" cars were swiftly nicknamed déplaisance ("displeasure") by French-speaking employees and customers, due to early problems adapting the equipment for Canadian use. Doors and toilets froze in cold Atlantic Canada temperatures, resulting in delays and service interruptions. New diesel-electric P42DC locomotives purchased from General Electric allowed the withdrawal of older locomotives, including the remaining LRC locomotives. The LRC passenger cars were retained and continued to provide much of the Corridor service. This expansion to Via's fleet has permitted scheduling flexibility, particularly in the corridor. Additionally, many passenger stations have been remodelled into passenger-friendly destinations, with several hosting co-located transit and regional bus hubs for various municipalities.
Renaissance II proposal and cancellation - 2003-2004
On October 24, 2003, federal Minister of Transport David Collenette announced $700 million in new funding over the next five years. This funding was far below the $3 billion needed to implement a high-speed rail proposal in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor nicknamed ViaFast; however, the funding was intended to "provide for faster, more frequent and more reliable passenger service across Canada... [preserving] the option for higher speed rail, such as the Via Fast proposal" said Collenette. This new project was to be called "Renaissance II". Critics[who?] of "Renaissance II" noted that the majority of spending would take place in the corridor services and not add new trains or improved scheduling to Atlantic and Western Canada.
On December 18, 2003, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a freeze in federal spending on all major capital projects, including Via's five-year $700 million capital investment 'Renaissance II' program announced just six weeks earlier by outgoing Prime Minister Chrétien's administration. Critics of Martin's cuts claimed that he was in a distinct conflict of interest as his family through Canada Steamship Lines and various subsidiary and affiliated companies had once had a significant investment in the Voyageur Colonial Bus Lines, an intercity bus line in Quebec and eastern Ontario that is a key competitor of Via Rail.
Service cuts - 2004-2005
Route cuts under the Martin government included the withdrawal of the seasonal Bras d'Or tourist train, which ran for the last time in September 2004, and the Montreal-Toronto overnight Enterprise, which was discontinued in September 2005. The Sarnia–Chicago International was also discontinued in April 2004 by Amtrak. Via's portion of the route from Toronto-Sarnia remained in operation as Via was able to use their own equipment to operate the train.
Via's role in the sponsorship scandal - 2004
The federal Auditor General's report released publicly on February 10, 2004, showed what appeared to be a criminal misdirection of government funds intended for advertising to key Quebec-based supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada. (See sponsorship scandal.) Included in the Auditor General's report was the fact that Via Rail was used as one of several federal government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations to funnel these illicit funds. Forced to act on the Auditor General's report due to its political implications, Prime Minister Paul Martin's government suspended Via Rail President Marc LeFrançois on February 24, 2004, giving him an ultimatum of several days to defend himself against allegations in the report or face further disciplinary action.
Several days later, during LeFrançois's suspension, a former Via Rail marketing department employee, Myriam Bédard, claimed she was fired several years earlier when she questioned company billing practices in dealing with advertising companies. (According to CBC News, an arbitrator's report later concluded that Bédard had voluntarily left Via Rail.) She was publicly belittled by Via Rail Chief Executive Officer Jean Pelletier in national media on February 27, 2004. Pelletier retracted his statements but on March 1, 2004, Pelletier was fired. On March 5, 2004, after failing to defend himself adequately against the allegations in the Auditor General's report, LeFrançois was fired as well.
Increasing problems and reinstated funding - 2005-2009
The reversal of funding in 2003 led to a backlog of deferred maintenance and left Via unable to replace or refurbish life-expired locomotives and rolling stock. Regardless, Via ridership increased from 3.8 million in 2005 to 4.1 million in 2006.
On October 11, 2007, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced federal government funding of $691.9 million over five years, of which $519 million is capital funding, and the remainder additional operating funding. The capital funding is earmarked to refurbish Via's fleet of 54 F40PH-2 locomotives to meet new emissions standards and extend their service lives by 15–20 years, refurbish the interiors of the LRC coaches, reduce track capacity bottlenecks and speed restrictions in the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor, and make repairs to a number of stations across the network.
This announcement is similar in content to the previous Renaissance II package, and once again can be criticized for not including any new equipment or funding for services outside the Corridor. Shortly after this announcement was made, documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act revealed that delays due to equipment failures had risen by 60% since the previous year. The company attributed this to problems with the aging F40 locomotive fleet.
On January 27, 2009, the Government of Canada announced in its 2009 Economic Action Plan that it would increase funding to Via by $407 million to support improvements to passenger rail services, including higher train frequencies and enhanced on-time performance and speed, particularly in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor.
Labour difficulties - 2009-2010
On July 21, 2009, Via Rail announced that its engineers would go on strike as of July 24 if no deal was reached by then, and began cancelling all trains in anticipation of strike. The strike officially began at midnight on July 24 after it became clear that no deal had been reached. Engineers had been without a contract since December 31, 2006. Full service was resumed on July 27, 2009.
Service cuts - 2011
The Victoria–Courtenay service on Vancouver Island was suspended indefinitely in March 2011 due to deteriorating track.
Service cuts - 2012
On June 27, 2012, Via Rail announced another round of budget cuts to be achieved by reducing service:
- The Canadian was reduced from 3 days a week to 2 days a week beginning in November 2012, service will be 2 days a week from November to April during off peak season and returning to 3 per week during peak season from May to October.
- The Ocean was reduced from 6 days a week to 3 days a week beginning in October 2012.
- Corridor services west of Toronto were reduced, and there will be weekend service reductions to Montreal and Ottawa.
- Corridor services to Sarnia and Niagara Region were reduced to one per day starting in October 2012, with some cuts starting in July 2012. Sarnia was left with only one train each way per day. Niagara Falls lost all service except the joint Amtrak-Via Maple Leaf service.
- Corridor services to Kitchener, London, and Windsor were reduced to fewer trains per day starting in October 2012, though still at least two each way.
Service cuts, 2013
- Gaspé service, which had been replaced by bus service sometime in 2011, was suspended indefinitely in September 2013.
Service restoration, 2014
- Corridor late-evening Toronto-Montreal stopping service was reintroduced, with a 18:00 departure from Toronto and 18:30 departure from Montreal Fridays and Sundays
- Express Corridor Toronto-Ottawa midday service was introduced, departing Fridays-Mondays at 10:45 from Toronto and 10:30 from Ottawa
Service increase, 2015
- Frequency increased to mid-sized stations on the Quebec-Windsor corridor, with stopping patterns added at Cobourg, Belleville, Kingston, and Brockville for select Corridor Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal services
- Evening frequency increases on select days on Toronto-Montreal and Montreal-Ottawa routes
- Via announces it is exploring the potential to introduce a daily regional service in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Halifax-Moncton; Moncton-Campbellton) to complement the thrice-weekly Ocean service to Montreal. In an interview Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano also notes that the subsidy for passenger rail travel in Canada in 2015 is about 200 percent: for every $1 travellers spend on fares, Canada pays $2 in subsidy.
Budget and management
Via Rail is operated as an independent crown corporation and receives a subsidy from the Minister of Transport to service remote communities. The line item for the subsidy is found is Volume III of the Public Accounts of Canada, and was in 2012 $494 million. Via Rail operates 50 trains per week in and between remote communities in Canada, six trains per week between Montreal and Halifax (3 in each direction), and three trains per week between Toronto and Vancouver. More than 400 trains per week run in the corridor between Windsor and Quebec, including an average of six interprovincially-routed departures or arrivals. The sum of almost $200 million was earned from passenger fares on intercity travel in the Ontario-Quebec corridor. Over four million passenger voyages were taken in 2010. An on-time ratio of over 80% was achieved in that year. Just under 3,000 persons were employed by Via Rail in 2010. Over the 20 years prior to 2010, Via Rail increased its passenger revenues by 92%.
The Chair of the Board of Directors in 2010 was Paul G. Smith, while the President and CEO was Marc Laliberte; 12 other persons were Directors at the time. The Annual accounts of Via Rail are audited to GAAP principles by the Auditor-General of Canada, under the Financial Administration Act. Via Rail Canada Inc. is incorporated under the CBCA and is subject to income taxes, should a profit ever be declared by it. Rolling stock, which amounted to $806.5 million in 2010, is amortised over a 12 to 30-year period. The corporation had $9,300,000 in share capital as of 2010. In May 2014, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano was appointed as the new CEO of Via Rail. Via Rail received $400 million of government funding in 2014.
Travelling on Via
Travel on Via varies by region as much as class. Many of Via's policies and protocols are the product of running a national train system with varying pressures and needs of different passengers, communities, and contexts. The results are wide-ranging travel experiences depending on the distance and location of the journey.
Classes of service
- Economy: Economy class seating in coach cars. Passengers are not always assigned specific seats, and are usually segregated into specific train cars according to passenger destination. Snacks and beverages are sold by employees with service carts. Free Wi-Fi access is provided in the Corridor and on the Ocean. All Corridor trains with the exception of trains 650 and 651 have assigned seating.
- Business: First-class seating available on most Corridor trains in southern Quebec and Ontario. Business Class offers passengers individually reserved seats, more spacious seating, window blinds, inclusive hot three-course meals complete with complimentary wine and liqueurs, in-seat AC power outlets and free Wi-Fi access. Business Class passengers are also granted priority boarding and access to the Panorama Lounges at major urban stations.
- Sleeper: Sleeping accommodations aboard overnight trains. Sleeper class includes berth sections and single, double and triple bedrooms which feature bunkbeds, electrical outlet, chairs and a private washroom. Each sleeper car (except in the case of Renaissance cars) is equipped with a public shower.
- Sleeper Plus: Improved sleeping accommodations; available on the Canadian and Ocean only. Combines Sleeper class accommodations, first-class meals in the dining car, and access to the "Skyline" car and viewing salons in the glass-domed "Park" car, when available. Passengers are also given priority boarding and access to the Panorama Lounges at major urban stations.
- Prestige: Via's latest premium service offering available on the Canadian only. In addition to the Sleeper Plus amenities, includes modernized luxurious sleeping accommodations at the rear of the train, priority reservations in the dining car, a concierge, complimentary beverages (including alcohol), and schedule permitting, a free tour of select Winnipeg attractions.
- Touring: Available on the Jasper – Prince Rupert train only during the peak travel months. Includes three meals per day, wine, on-train commentary from the staff, and access to the Panoramic and "Park" dome cars.
Smoking is prohibited on all Via trains. It has been banned on the Corridor routes since 1993 and was gradually extended to all trains. The last remaining on-board smoking was permitted in a smoker's lounge on some long-distance routes, only at certain times of day/night until 2002. Washrooms are provided for each car. On sleeper cars, every private room has its own separate washroom. Food service varies by train. All trains save the Sudbury – White River train offer snacks, light meals, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for purchase. Long-distance trains offer traditional sit-down dining and full meals to sleeper class passengers. Economy class passengers can purchase hot take-out meals prepared in the dining car on long-distance trains during the peak season, and eat in the sit-down dining car in the off-peak.
There is a complimentary Wi-Fi service available in the Corridor. The present Wi-Fi system is provided by 21Net since November 2008. Previously, the Wi-Fi service was provided by Parsons commencing in February 2006. Via had upgraded the past Wi-Fi system during 2011 with technology provided by Nomad Digital. Via Rail was the first North American transportation service to offer Wi-Fi to its passengers in early 2006, and was one of the first in the world to do so. Wi-Fi is also available to travellers in all classes of service who may benefit from complimentary Wi-Fi service in many Quebec City-Windsor corridor stations.
Via offers checked luggage on its longer-haul services; however, in the Corridor only certain trains have luggage cars. In older class cars there is sufficient space at the front of the car for luggage storage. In contrast, the Renaissance stock has enough space (underneath the seat) for only one small piece of carry-on luggage; the remainder must be checked.
Accessibility and safety concerns
Via offers pre-boarding assistance to those passengers requiring extra time to board its trains. Not all stations are equally accessible; some have high-level platforms or mechanical lifts. All Via trains are capable of accommodating wheelchairs, although capacity is limited.
VIAPAQ Courier service
The train offers, at least in theory, an easy means of intercity freight transport and exchange. A service known as VIAPAQ Courier was indeed present for a time during the oughties, and offered from conveniently located stations in cities along the Ocean and Corridor routes, station-to-station transportation of small packages and envelopes. The cost was based on a weight and distance-travelled formula, and did not exceed $50 for a 50 lb package to travel from Windsor to Halifax. In 2009, the maximum weight exceeded 50 lbs and there was even a dedicated 1-866 2-VIAPAQ phone service. This service was discontinued on April 14, 2016.
Routes and connections
Via operates 475 trains per week over nineteen routes, grouped into three broad categories:
- "Rapid Intercity Travel": daytime services over the Corridor between Ontario and Quebec. The vast majority of Via's trains–over 400 per week–operate here.
- "Long-distance travel and tourism": the famous Canadian and Ocean, providing traditional transcontinental service.
- "Regional Services": rural services mandated by the Canadian Government for areas which otherwise lack reasonable year-round transportation.
Corridor is used by Via to refer to all Via intercity passenger trains which start and end within the geographic region known as the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. The Corridor trains run from Windsor, Ontario, in the west through southern Ontario to south-western Quebec to Quebec City. The area offers the greatest concentration of Via trains. Roughly 90% of Via's revenue and passenger traffic is within this corridor. Ownership of the route is split between Via, the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Metrolinx. Via has been working with CN since 2009 to add a third track to portions of this route. The 66 km of track are projected to be finished in 2012, and would eventually increase its on-time performance and reduce travel time by up to 30 minutes.
The Canadian operates between Toronto and Vancouver. It is the lineal descendant of the famous Canadian Pacific train of the same name which ran between 1955–1978, although since 1990 it has used the Canadian National's route instead of the CP's, replacing the discontinued Super Continental. The journey between Toronto and Vancouver requires almost 87 hours. It operates twice a week off-peak and three times a week during peak season.[needs update]
The Ocean, which operates between Montreal and Halifax, has operated over essentially the same route since 1903, making it one of the oldest named trains in the world. It travels over the former Intercolonial Railway, built by the federal government as part of the terms on which New Brunswick and Nova Scotia agreed to join Canada. During both world wars the line to Halifax was vitally important to Canada's war effort. The Ocean makes the 840-mile (1,352 km) journey in 23 hours, three days a week.[needs update]
Jasper-Prince Rupert train
The Jasper-Prince Rupert train operates between Jasper, Alberta to Prince Rupert, British Columbia with an overnight stop at Prince George, British Columbia. It travels through the Jasper National Park in Alberta before reaching Prince George and continuing along the Yellowhead Path and Skeena River in BC. The train covers 1,160-kilometre (721 mi) in two days with two to three weekly departures. Touring class is available during the peak travel season from June to September.
Via operates a total of fifty trains a week to remote rural areas to fulfill government mandates for service to areas "where alternative, year-round transportation is limited or unavailable." This includes trains from Montreal to Senneterre and Jonquiere, Quebec; Sudbury to White River, Ontario; and Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba.
International connections are provided by agreement with Amtrak and include the Maple Leaf, operating between New York's Pennsylvania Station and Toronto's Union Station via Albany and Buffalo. The Adirondack is an exclusive Amtrak train operating between Montreal's Gare Centrale (Central Station) and New York City's Penn Station. The Amtrak Cascades offers service between Vancouver and Seattle, Washington. Additional rail service within Canada is provided by the Algoma Central Railway and Keewatin Railway.
Via Rail also has agreements with Metrolinx-run Union Pearson Express to connect passengers from Toronto Union Station to Pearson International Airport, the busiest air transport hub in Canada. In addition, a number of interline agreements with the following airlines are made by Via. Passengers who are arriving or departing with the following airlines can combine their air and rail trips under the same record locator:
- Cathay Pacific
- Hainan Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Air North
- Air Transat
- First Air
- Royal Jordanian
Via Rail owns 73 locomotives and 444 passenger cars. Examples include the GMD F40PH-2 diesel locomotive and the famed "Park"-class sleeper-dome-lounge cars found on the rear of the Canadian and Jasper – Prince Rupert train.
In 2010, Via's carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions per passenger kilometre were 0.117 kg. For comparison, this is similar to Amtrak or a car with two people, about twice as high as the UK rail average, about four times the average US motorcoach, and about eight times a Finnish electric intercity train or fully loaded fifty-seat coach. It is, however, about two thirds of the raw CO2-equivalent emissions of a long-distance domestic flight.
Accidents and incidents
- The most serious Via Rail accident to date occurred on February 8, 1986, when a Via train collided with a CN freight train near Hinton, Alberta, killing 23 people and injuring 71.
- On February 11, 1992, during a snowstorm Via train No. 65, en route from Montreal to Toronto, struck a tractor trailer at a level crossing near Coteau-du-Lac, Quebec. Four passengers killed, all in the VIA1 first car, 48 injured.
- On November 20, 1994, at approximately 18:20 eastern standard time, Via train No. 66 travelling eastward at approximately 96 mph, struck a piece of rail intentionally placed on the track at Mile 242.07 of the CN North America (CN) Kingston Subdivision, in Brighton, Ontario. A fire erupted and the trailing portion of the locomotive and the first two-passenger cars behind the locomotive became engulfed in flames. Forty-six of the 385 passengers were injured, most while exiting the train in life-threatening conditions. 2 local residents were charged and convicted after an investigation by the local police.
- On September 3, 1997, the Canadian as Train 2 from Vancouver to Toronto, travelling eastward at 67 mph, derailed at Mile 7.5 of the Canadian National Wainwright Subdivision, near Biggar, Saskatchewan. Thirteen of nineteen cars and the two locomotives derailed. Seventy-nine of the 198 passengers and crew on board were injured, 1 fatally and 13 seriously. Approximately 600 feet of main track was destroyed. The cause was determined to be an axle bearing failure which was detected but erroneously ignored. Via was heavily criticized for a lack of attention to safety.
- On April 23, 1999, Via Rail Train No. 74 travelling eastward at Mile 46.7 on the Canadian National Chatham Subdivision in Thamesville,Ontario derailed after a switch was left open by a CN worker causing the train to jump the tracks and collide with stationary hoppers on the adjacent track, derailing the locomotive and its 4 passenger cars. The 2 engineers were killed and 77 of the 186 passengers injured, 4 seriously. Approximately 50 m of the main track and 100 m of the yard track were destroyed. 
- On April 12, 2001, the Ocean train originating at Montreal destined for Halifax derailed at a manually operated main track switch in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. A standard Canadian National (CN) switch lock used to secure the switch in correct position had been tampered with. The two locomotives and the first two cars continued on the main track, but the following cars took a diverging route onto an industrial track adjacent to the main track. Nine of the cars derailed and a farm supply building, as well as the industrial track were destroyed. Four occupants of the building escaped without injury prior to impact. There were 132 persons on board the train. Twenty-two persons were transported to hospital in either Truro or Halifax. Nine were seriously injured. A 15-year-old boy pleaded guilty to the charge of mischief endangering life relating to the lock tampering.
- On February 26, 2012, Via Rail train 92 en route from Niagara Falls to Toronto, derailed in Burlington, Ontario, killing all three railroad engineers and injuring 46 (3 seriously). The cause of the derailment is attributed to the excessive speed of the train travelling through a switch from track 2 to track 3.
- 2013 VIA Rail Canada terrorism plot: In April 2013, two men inspired by al-Qaeda were charged with plotting to derail a Via train in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2015, both men were convicted of terrorism-related offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment. One of the two men was mentally unstable and misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.
- On September 18, 2013, a collision occurred between Train 51 and a double-decker OC Transpo bus that failed to stop at a level crossing in Ottawa. Six people were killed and 31 injured (11 critically), all of whom were on the bus. The impact resulted in the train derailing approximately 100–200 feet (30–61 m) down the track.
Predecessor passenger services:
Other publicly owned regional passenger carriers in Canada:
Privately owned Canadian passenger services:
- Rocky Mountaineer: Daylight operations through scenic areas specifically for tourist travel
- Royal Canadian Pacific: Luxury tourist service operated by Canadian Pacific
- Algoma Central Railway: Passenger and tourist services in Ontario between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. Owned by CN.
Other companies in North America offering inter-city services:
- "Annual Report 2015" (PDF). Annual Report 2015. Via Rail Canada. Retrieved 19 Feb 2017.
- Nelligan, Tom (1982). Via Rail Canada: The first five years. PJT Publishing. ISBN 0-937658-08-1.
- http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/via-rail-seeking-federal-budget-funding-for-1-3b-passenger-car-upgrade-in-toronto-montreal-corridor; Jason Fekete; "Via Rail seeking federal budget funding for $1.3B passenger car upgrade in Toronto-Montreal corridor"; National Post; February 29, 2016; retrieved March 2, 2016
- "Transport 2000 Hotline". Transport2000.ca. 2004-01-30. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20040605025751/http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/10/24/train031024. Archived from the original on June 5, 2004. Missing or empty
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- respectively http://docs.wri.org/wri_co2comm_2002_commuting_protected.xls, sheet 8, cell C33, figures from 2002; http://www.buses.org/files/2008ABAFoundationComparativeFuelCO2.pdf table 1.1, figures from 2007
- figures from 2008-9.
- figures from 2007.
- Respectively http://lipasto.vtt.fi/yksikkopaastot/henkiloliikennee/raideliikennee/junat_henkiloe.htm, figures for 2007; http://www.lipasto.vtt.fi/yksikkopaastot/henkiloliikennee/tieliikennee/linja-autote/latiee.htm, figures for 2010.
- Based on the 2008 Finnish data at http://lipasto.vtt.fi/yksikkopaastot/henkiloliikennee/ilmaliikennee/ilmae.htm.
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