(President & CEO)
|Revenue||CA$392.6 million (2018)|
|CA$-272.6 million (2018)|
|Total assets||CA$1,467 million (2018)|
Number of employees
|Dates of operation||1977–present|
|Predecessor||CN and CP passenger services|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|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 that is mandated to operate intercity passenger rail service in Canada. It receives an annual subsidy from Transport Canada to offset the cost of operating services connecting remote communities.
Via Rail operates over 500 trains per week across eight Canadian provinces and 12,500 kilometres (7,800 mi) of track, 97 per cent of which is owned and maintained by other railway companies, mostly by Canadian National Railway (CN). Via Rail carried approximately 4.39 million passengers in 2017, the majority along the Corridor routes connecting the major cities of the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, and had an on-time performance of 73 per cent.
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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 no longer economically viable. CP sought to divest itself of its passenger trains, but federal government regulators and politicians balked, forcing them to maintain a minimal service through the 1970s, with the government subsidizing up to 80 percent 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 below 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
1977: Formation of Via Rail Canada
On 12 January 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 29 October 1978, Via assumed all CP passenger train operations 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 & 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 — 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 remains 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. Had Via been enabled by legislation, the company would 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 — like Amtrak in the United States — 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.
1981: Service cuts
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 slash Via's budget, leading to a 40 percent reduction in the company's operations. Frequently sold-out trains such as the Super Continental (which reduced Via to operating only one transcontinental train, The Canadian) and the popular Atlantic were discontinued.
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).
1985: Service restoration
The election of Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government in 1984 brought an initial friend to Via, 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 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 8 February 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, resulting in 23 deaths.
1990–1994: Additional downsizing
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 15 January 1990, when Via's operations were reduced by 55 percent.
Services such as the Super Continental were again discontinued, 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 (previously plied by the Super Continental). The shift to the less-populated (and less scenic) route between Toronto and Vancouver severed major western cities such as Regina, Saskatchewan and Calgary, Alberta from the passenger rail network and flared western bitterness toward the Government of Canada.
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.
The Mulroney cuts allowed Via to consolidate 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.
Via was not spared from further cutbacks in Jean Chrétien's Liberal 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 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 currently 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.
2000–2003: Renaissance funding
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 (GE) allowed the withdrawal of older locomotives, including remaining LRCs. LRC passenger cars were retained and continued to provide much of the Corridor service. This expansion to Via's fleet has permitted scheduling flexibility. Additionally, many passenger stations have been remodelled into passenger-friendly destinations, with several hosting co-located transit and regional bus hubs for various municipalities.
2003–04: Renaissance II proposal and cancellation
On 24 October 2003, federal Minister of Transport David Collenette announced $700 million in new funding over the next five years. This funding was 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 18 December 18 2003, Liberal Prime Minister (PM) Paul Martin announced a freeze in federal spending on all major capital projects, including Via's five-year $700 million "Renaissance II" program announced just six weeks earlier by outgoing PM 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.
2004–05: Service cuts
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.
2004: Sponsorship scandal
The federal Auditor General's report released publicly on 10 February 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. Included in the Auditor General's report was the fact that Via 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, Martin's government suspended Via President Marc LeFrançois on 24 February 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, former Via 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.) She was publicly belittled by Via CEO Jean Pelletier in national media on 27 February 2004. Pelletier retracted his statements but on 1 March, Pelletier was fired. By 5 March, after failing to defend himself adequately against the allegations in the Auditor General's report, LeFrançois was fired as well.
2005–2009: Increasing problems and reinstated funding
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. Conversely, Via ridership increased from 3.8 million in 2005 to 4.1 million in 2006. On 11 October 2007, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced federal government funding of $691.9 million over five years (of which $519 million for capital projects), and the remainder additional operating funding. The capital funding was 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 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 was similar in content to the previous "Renaissance II" package, and once again was criticized for not including new equipment or funding for services outside the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor. Shortly afterwards, documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act revealed that delays due to equipment failures had risen by 60 percent since the previous year. The company attributed this to problems with the aging F40 locomotive fleet.
On 27 January 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, including increased train frequencies and enhanced on-time performance and speed, particularly in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor.
2009–10: Labour difficulties
On 21 July 2009, Via announced its engineers would go on strike as of 24 July 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 31 December 2006. Full service resumed on 27 July 2009. An additional strike by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union, representing around 2,200 employees, was planned to begin on 4 July 2010, but was called off after the union and Via reached a three-year contract.
2011–2013: More service cuts
Via experienced more service cuts at the dawn of the 2010. In March 2011, the daily Victoria–Courtenay Dayliner RDC service on Vancouver Island was suspended indefinitely due to deteriorating track (it has yet to resume). By 27 June 2012, Via announced additional service cuts due to funding issues:
- The Canadian was reduced from three days a week to two days a week beginning November 2012; service remains at twice weekly November-April during and thrice weekly May-October.
- The Ocean was reduced from six days a week to thrice weekly beginning October 2012.
- Corridor services west of Toronto were reduced, with weekend service reductions to Montreal and Ottawa, Ontario.
- Corridor services to Sarnia and the Niagara region were reduced to once daily in October 2012, with additional taking effect in July 2012. Sarnia was left with a single daily round-trip. Niagara Falls lost all service except the joint Amtrak-Via daily New York City-Toronto Maple Leaf service, although Toronto regional commuter service was later provided by GO Transit.
- Corridor services to Kitchener, London, and Windsor were reduced starting in October 2012, with at least two daily round trips surviving.
- In September 2013, the Gaspé service, which had been "bustituted" in 2011, was suspended indefinitely.
2014–2017: Service improvements
The Quebec-Windsor corridor was the focus of service restorations and implements. A direct Ottawa-Quebec City train was restored, with additional trips between Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto being added. In 2016, LRC passenger cars used for the corridor were refurbished; in the Via 1 class, this included single seating.
2017: Via 150 Pass controversy
In March 2017, Via announced the release of a new category of rail pass valid for the month of July 2017 (corresponding to Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations) for youth aged 18-25, costing $150 (several hundred dollars cheaper than a comparable rail pass would typically cost). A larger than expected response resulted in the temporary loss of functionality for Via's website. Despite plans to cap the number of passes sold at 1867 (the year of Canadian Confederation), over 4,000 passes were ultimately sold. The company received significant backlash, as it initially appeared there was no limit on the number of passes available.
Extreme winter conditions had always been an operational hazard for Via, with the Ottawa routes and Canadian being most vulnerable. Equally, summer repairs and construction often delayed trains systemwide, even though schedules were regularly adjusted in an attempt to minimize delays.
However, by 2018, freight traffic on the heavily used CN lines had become a significant concern for maintaining on-time service. This issue arose due to typical siding sizes, which were not long enough to accommodate modern freight trains. Passenger trains were consequently placed on sidings whenever two trains passed (rather than freights), which meant that passenger trains did not have priority on CN lines. The issue existed in all parts of the Via network, although it became most extreme on the Canadian, where delays increased from an average of five hours to as much as 50 over the four-day journey. Via ultimately addressed the issue by eliminating its late policy on its cross-Canada trains but retaining it for the Corridor routes. However, Via continues to compensate inconvenienced guests with necessary hotel accommodations prior to the journey, as well as ensuring continued transportation where a connection to a second Via train had been missed. As such, compensation costs were factored into Via's 2018 budget.
By the end of 2018, the full route time on the Canadian had been increased twice to absorb freight delays. The second extension – to five days – has been mostly successful in decreasing delays, and also allowed for a daytime transit of Hells Gate in BC, previously transversed overnight in the dark. The scheduled increased running time actually resulted in the Canadian arriving early on several occasions. However, Toronto-Vancouver service frequencies were reduced to only twice weekly during peak summer period, with a third Toronto- Edmonton run suspended entirely.
2018: New Corridor fleet
On 12 December 2018, Via announced that it had awarded a contract to Siemens Canada for 32 train sets to replace the entire Quebec City-Windsor Corridor fleet . This marked the completion of a procurement process launched following the 2018 federal budget, which allocated funding for the fleet replacement. During the request-for-proposals stage, Via had narrowed the potential suppliers down to Siemens, Bombardier, Talgo and Stadler Rail. Siemens was ultimately selected after finishing first on the key criteria, which included the ability to deliver in a timely fashion, the quality of the product offering, and the price. The new fleet will consist of Siemens SCB-40 locomotives hauling a combination of coaches, business-class cars, and cab cars from the Siemens Viaggio Comfort series to allow bi-directional operation. The trains will be built at Siemens plant in Sacramento, California, and Siemens committed to including at least 20 percent Canadian content in the final product. The order includes an option for an additional 16 train sets to be exercised if the federal government approves Via's high-frequency dedicated-corridor project. The first train set is to be delivered for testing by winter 2021, with the first sets in service by 2022 and all trains in service by 2024. The delivery of the new trains will allow Via to retire LRC and Renaissance equipment from the corridor, and re-allocate the HEP2 and corridor-based HEP1 cars to other parts of the network.
Two former Via routes — the Dayliner (service ended in 2011) and Chaleur (service ended in 2013) — are currently suspended due to poor track conditions. Via plans to reintroduce service once track upgrades have been completed. The Quebec government announced funds for repairs to Chaleur trackage in 2017, with a completion date stated only as being "several years away." No concrete plan to restore trackage along the Dayliner has been announced as of July 2019.
The Winnipeg–Churchill train was disrupted by severe spring flooding on 23 May 2017, when the Hudson Bay Railway tracks were damaged beyond standard maintenance. Winnipeg-Gillam service continued to be offered. OmniTRAX, the original owner of the track, refused to make the repairs, saying that the track was no longer viable, despite the matching federal subsidy. The railroad was Churchill's only land link to southern Canada, and its loss resulting in significant cost-of-living increases for local residents along the corridor (a stranded train was removed by ship in October 2017).
Service to Churchill was finally restored in late 2018, after the tracks, Churchill port, and Churchill marine tank farm were purchased by Arctic Gateway Group. The federal government assisted in the purchase with $74 million of dedicated northern infrastructure money up front and an additional commitment of $43 million over 10 years. To restore passenger rail service before winter, Arctic Gateway repaired 29 washouts in just 35 days. Although a special Via train arrived in Churchill on 1 November, the first regular Via train arrived in Churchill on 4 December, some 560 days after service initially ceased.
On February 13, 2020, following several days of blockades during the ongoing nationwide Coastal GasLink Pipeline protests, Via Rail announced that it would be shutting down most of its passenger train service across Canada until further notice, with the exception of the Sudbury–White River train line and the Winnipeg–Churchill train between Churchill and The Pas.
Plans for expansion
Via has explored the introduction of daily regional service in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (connecting Halifax, Moncton, and Campbellton) to complement the thrice-weekly Ocean service to Montreal. As of 2017, Via's statement was that it was "exploring an eastern intercity corridor service" and that further developments were dependent on infrastructure upgrades and equipment testing.
Via has also expressed interest in operating commuter rail service on CN tracks in Halifax, Nova Scotia that would run from the city's downtown station as far as Windsor Junction. However, in June 2019, Halifax regional council voted unanimously to direct staff "not to pursue commuter rail service further...due to infrastructure requirements and associated financial implications, as well as operational considerations and restraints".
High Frequency Rail Project (HFR)
Via has developed its "high-frequency" service plan as a response to delays faced by sharing tracks with freight trains. The plan opts for a dedicated track between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, offering more frequent trains (although running at conventional speeds). Feasibility studies have been funded by the federal government since the 2016 budget, and the 2018 budget allowed for the funding of the fleet replacement portion of the plan, though not the dedicated rail lines. Contrary to expectations, the 2019 federal budget did not include a final decision for new funds for HFR.
Budget and management
Via is operated as an independent crown corporation and receives a subsidy from the Minister of Transport to provide service to remote communities. Via operates more than 500 trains per week from coast to coast. The sum of $369 million was earned from passenger revenues in 2018. Over 4.74 million passenger voyages were taken in 2018. An on-time ratio of 71 percent was achieved in that year. Over 3,115 persons were employed by Via by the end of 2018.
Via president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano stated that the subsidy for passenger rail travel in Canada in 2015 was about 200 percent: for every $1 travellers spend on fares, Canada pays $2 in subsidy.
As of May 2019, the Chair of the Board of Directors is Françoise Bertrand, while the President and CEO is Cynthia Garneau; there are 11 other persons on the Board of Directors at the same year. The Annual accounts of Via 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. The corporation had $9,300,000 in share capital as of 2018. Via also received $394.4 million of government funding in 2018.
In May 2019, Cynthia Garneau was appointed as the new CEO of Via. She replaced Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, who completed his five-year mandate on 8 May 2019.
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.
Some Via routes outside the corridor offer the option of unscheduled stops at places where there is no station. With 48 hours notice, a passenger can request to entrain or detrain at a specified milepost. This option is available on all the Adventure Routes, as well as the Canadian between Capreol and Winnipeg.
Classes of service
- Escape Fare: Discounted seats from economy class, with restrictions on refunds and exchanges.
- Economy: Economy class seating in coach cars. Passengers are usually assigned seats except trains 54, 97, 98, 650 and 651, where passengers are separated based on train cars according to destination. Snacks and beverages are sold by employees with service carts, in a lounge car, or in a restaurant car. Free Wi-Fi access is provided in the Corridor and on the Ocean.
- Business: (formerly called VIA 1): 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 business lounges at major urban stations.
- Touring: Available on the Skeena only in peak travel months. Includes three meals per day, wine with supper, on-train commentary from the staff, and guaranteed access to the Panoramic and Park cars.
- Sleeper Plus: Sleeping accommodations aboard overnight trains. This service class was formerly known as Sleeper in some cases, including on the now-suspended Chaleur. Available on the Canadian, Ocean and Winnipeg-Churchill trains. Options for this class on the Canadian include berth sections and single, double and triple bedrooms with bunkbeds and electrical outlets. On other trains, not all options are available. Also included are first-class meals in the dining car (not including alcohol), 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. Each car has access to a washroom and, optionally, a shower. Access to business lounges where available or the Sleeper Plus Lounge in Halifax is available on departure day.
- 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. Access to business lounges is provided on both arrival and departure days in Toronto and Vancouver.
Smoking is prohibited on all Via trains. Smoking tobacco has been banned on the Corridor routes since 1993 and this policy was gradually extended to all trains, while smoking cannabis was banned on all Via routes on the same day it was made legal in Canada. The last remaining on-board smoking was permitted in a smoker's lounge on some long-distance routes, only at certain times of day 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.
Complimentary Wi-Fi service is 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 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.
Wi-Fi service has been added to the Ocean train in the service cars, and to the Canadian, although connections are unreliable in most places outside urban centres.
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.
Routes and connections
Via operates in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The only province or territory connected to the continental railway network and not served by Via is the Northwest Territories. Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon have no rail connections to the continental network and thus no Via service.
Via operates over 475 trains per week over 19 routes, marketed in four broad categories:
- Ontario and Quebec/Corridor service: comprising frequent regional and local trains between major cities in a band from Southwestern Ontario to Quebec City. The vast majority of Via's trains – over 400 per week – operate here. Cities served by Corridor trains include Windsor, Sarnia, London, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. In 2017, corridor service accounted for 95 percent of Via's ridership and 77 percent of its revenue.
- The Maritime Way/Ocean: providing long-distance service between Quebec and the Maritime provinces. In 2017, the Ocean accounted for 2 percent of Via's ridership and 3 percent of its revenue.
- The Great Western Way/Canadian: providing both long-distance service between Southern Ontario and Western Canada, as well as essential rail services through Northern Ontario. In 2017, the Canadian accounted for 2 percent of Via's ridership and 20 percent of its revenue.
- Adventure Routes: Five regional and long-distance routes that offer essential rail transportation in rural northern areas. In 2017, these routes in aggregate accounted for 1 percent of Via's ridership and revenue. The routes included in this category are:
- Jasper–Prince Rupert train (former name: Skeena) - Alberta and British Columbia
- Montreal–Jonquière train (former name: Saguenay) - Quebec
- Montreal–Senneterre train (former name: Abitibi) - Quebec
- Sudbury–White River train (former name: Lake Superior) - Ontario
- Winnipeg–Churchill train (former name: Hudson Bay) - Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Unlike Amtrak, which gives every route a specific name, most Via trains are identified only by their route number and destination. The only named Via trains are the Canadian and the Ocean. The five "Adventure Routes" were previously branded as the Skeena, the Saguenay, the Abitibi, the Lake Superior, and the Hudson Bay, respectively, and may still be referred to by these names in local usage.
- 84 percent: Canadian National Railway
- 8 percent: Hudson Bay Railway
- 4 percent: Canadian Pacific Railway
- 3 percent: Via Rail
- 2 percent: Metrolinx (GO Transit)
The Maple Leaf, operating between New York City and Toronto via Albany, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls, is jointly managed by Via and Amtrak. The train operates using Amtrak equipment, but on the Canadian side of the border is staffed by Via employees and operated as a typical Via train.
Two other train routes link Canada and the US: the Adirondack (Montreal-New York) and the Amtrak Cascades (Vancouver-Seattle-Portland). While both of these routes share stations with Via at their Canadian termini, they are fully operated by Amtrak and single-ticket connections to Via trains are not offered.
In addition to Amtrak, Via passengers can book connecting tickets on the following rail services:
- Exo - Montreal regional commuter trains
- GO Transit - Toronto regional commuter trains
- Train de Charlevoix - summer tourist train between Quebec City and the Charlevoix region (no shared station in Quebec City; bus shuttle available)
- Union Pearson Express - airport rail link from downtown Toronto to Toronto Pearson International Airport
Via also has connection agreements with several local and intercity bus operators, car-sharing services, and airlines. Passengers who are flying with these airlines can combine their air and rail trips under the same record locator:
- Air North
- Air Transat
- Cathay Pacific
- First Air
- Hainan Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
Via owns 73 locomotives and 501 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.
Accidents and incidents
- The most serious Via accident to date occurred on 8 February 1986, when a Via train collided with a CN freight train near Hinton, Alberta, killing 23 people and injuring 71.
- On 20 November 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 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 3 September 1997, the Canadian (train No. 2) from Vancouver to Toronto, travelling eastward at 67 mph, derailed at Mile 7.5 of the CN 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 23 April 1999, Via train No. 74 travelling eastward at Mile 46.7 on the CN 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 four passenger cars. The two engineers were killed and 77 of the 186 passengers injured, four seriously. Approximately 50 m of the main track and 100 m of the yard track were destroyed.
- On 12 April 2001, the Ocean bound for Montréal derailed at a manually operated main track switch in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia. A standard 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. 22 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 26 February 2012, Via Train No. 92 en route to Toronto, derailed in Burlington, Ontario, killing all three railroad engineers and injuring 46 (three 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 18 September 2013, a collision occurred between train No. 51 and a double-decker OC Transpo bus that failed to stop at a level crossing in Ottawa, Ontario. 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.
- On 5 July 2018, a train with 16 passengers and five crew members derailed north of Hudson Bay, SK while travelling from Winnipeg to Churchill. Passengers and crew sustained only minor injuries, but it took several hours for emergency crews to arrive due to the remote location of the incident. Paramedics and firefighters had to wait near the tracks for CN rail trucks to arrive that could transport them to the crash site.
- On 31 December 2019, a train with 5 crew and 7 passengers derailed and tipped on its side near Katrime, Manitoba, the incident is still under investigation, no one was seriously injured.
- "Annual Report 2018" (PDF). Via Rail Canada. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
- Nelligan, Tom (1982). Via Rail Canada: The first five years. PJT Publishing. ISBN 0-937658-08-1.
- Jason Fekete (February 29, 2016). "Via Rail seeking federal budget funding for $1.3B passenger car upgrade in Toronto-Montreal corridor". National Post. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
- "Transport 2000 Hotline". Transport2000.ca. January 30, 2004. Archived from the original on April 20, 2011. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- "Via upgrades to cost $700 million". Archived from the original on June 5, 2004.
- "Via gets hundreds of millions in federal funding". CBC. October 11, 2007. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2007.
- "Backgrounder: New Funding For Via Rail Canada" (PDF). Via Rail. October 11, 2007. Retrieved October 23, 2007.
- Beeby, Dean (October 20, 2007). "Via train late? You're not alone". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Retrieved October 23, 2007.
- "Canada's Economic Action Plan". Department of Finance of Canada. January 27, 2009. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
- "Update: Strike Action—VIA Rail Canada cancels all services effective immediately". VIA Rail Canada Inc. Archived from the original on July 25, 2009.
- "Via Rail, CAW reach tentative agreement to avoid strike". Progressive Railroading. June 28, 2010. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
- "Via Rail continues its modernization and takes action to better meet customer demand" (Press release). Via Rail. June 27, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
- "Via train service to Sarnia cut in half". Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved July 6, 2012.
- "Niagara travellers impacted by Via cuts". Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved July 6, 2012.
- "Via Rail blames low ridership for cuts to Kitchener service". Retrieved July 6, 2012.
- "London area hit hard by nationwide Via Rail cuts". Retrieved July 6, 2012.
- "Via Rail cuts means fewer trains to, from Windsor". Retrieved July 6, 2012.
- "Via Rail service between Matapédia, New Carlisle and Gaspé suspended". Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- "Via Rail's $150 passes for unlimited travel sold out". Retrieved June 12, 2018.
- "Winter's extreme weather made trains extremely late, Via Rail reports". The Globe and Mail.
- "2018 Annual Public Meeting Questions and Answers — Part 1" (PDF). VIA Rail Canada.
- "Opinion: Passenger-train service falling off the rails". Vancouver Sun. August 29, 2016.
- "VIA train chronically late: Rail advocates". October 22, 2018.
- "What's holding up VIA's Canadian? (Updated)". Railway Age. May 30, 2018.
- Small, Kaylen (May 24, 2018). "Pain on the train: VIA Rail passengers frustrated with delays on cross-Canada journey". CBC News.
- "Travel credits". www.viarail.ca.
- "New VIA sked to keep 'Canadian' on time in Jasper – Jasper's source for news, sports, arts, culture, and more". The Fitzhugh.
- "Did Via Rail keep its promise? Let's ask". Riding the buses. December 6, 2018.
- "Lovely trip - Review of VIA Rail Canada, Quebec, Canada". TripAdvisor.
- "VIA Rail Selects Siemens Canada to Replace its Quebec-Windsor Corridor Fleet". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
- "VIA Rail places 989 million train order with Siemens". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
- "Summary of the 2017 – 2021 Corporate Plan and 2017 Operating and Capital Budgets" (PDF). VIA Rail Canada. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- "Quebec funds Gaspé railway revival". Retrieved June 12, 2018.
- Inc, VIA Rail Canada. "Via Rail service between Churchill and Gillam suspended indefinitely due to closure of the railway infrastructure in northern Manitoba". www.newswire.ca.
- "Ship brings propane to Churchill, will leave with stranded Via Rail train". CTV News.
- "'We are free:' Churchill celebrates return of train service with prime minister". Edmonton Journal. November 1, 2018.
- "Newsroom – Arctic Gateway Group".
- Canada, Western Economic Diversification (September 14, 2018). "Government of Canada announces support for acquisition and repair of Churchill rail line by Arctic Gateway Group". gcnws.
- "'It's very exciting': First rail tourists in 560 days depart for Churchill, Man". CBC News. December 2, 2018.
- "Churchill reconnected". cangeotravel.ca.
- Tasker, John Paul (February 13, 2020). "Via Rail cancels most trains nationwide, CN closes Eastern Canadian network as Indigenous protests continue". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Shah, Maryam (February 13, 2020). "Via Rail cancels most trains across the country as CN shuts down rails in eastern Canada". Global News. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Slaughter, Graham (February 13, 2020). "VIA Rail cancels trains across Canada, CN shuts down Eastern Canada network amid pipeline protests". CTV News. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
- Campbell, Francis (December 8, 2018). "Commuter rail 'far from dead' in Halifax". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Woodford, Zane (June 18, 2019). "Halifax council kills commuter rail proposal". Toronto Star. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
- Peddle, Stuart (June 19, 2019). "Halifax commuter rail not coming, but councillor still holding out hope". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
- "Federal budget approves new fleet of trains for Via Rail, but dedicated tracks still under study". Retrieved June 12, 2018.
- "VIA high Frequency Rail (HFR) Project not part of 2019 Federal Budget, but Continues to be Evaluated – Transport Action Ontario".
- Taylor, Roger (November 9, 2015). "Via looks at expanding Atlantic service". Chronicle Herald. Herald Limited. Retrieved November 20, 2015.
- "Stops in between two stations". VIA Rail.
- "Seat Assignment". February 11, 2014.
- "Train routes by region". VIA Rail. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- Via Rail. "Helpful links for the business traveller". Viarail.ca. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Classes aboard the Jasper-Prince Rupert train". VIA Rail. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- "Classes aboard the Montréal-Halifax train (the Ocean)". VIA Rail. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- "Classes aboard the Toronto-Vancouver train (the Canadian)". VIA Rail. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
- "Smoking to be banned on Via train". The Gazette. Montreal, QC. April 15, 1993. pp. A3.
- DeMont, John (August 2002). "All Aboard!". Maclean's. 115 (34): 16.
- Via Rail. "Onboard menus for all trains". Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "On-Train Entertainment". VIA Rail. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- "As of November 2008, the Internet Wi-Fi services on VIA Rail Canada trains running between Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City are operated by 21Net". Archived from the original on June 13, 2010..
- "NOMAD awarded contract by VIA Rail and Government of Canada". Nomad Digital Ltd. December 13, 2010. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011.
- Via Rail. "Free Wi-Fi". Viarail.ca. Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Baggage Policy" (PDF). VIA Rail Canada. June 2017. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- Via Rail. "Special needs". Retrieved February 24, 2013.
- "Explore Our Train Journeys". VIA Rail Canada. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
- "VIA Rail Annual Report 2017" (PDF). VIA Rail Canada. p. 2.
- Host, Stephen C. (November 20, 2018). "GEXR leased segment reverts to CN". Railway Age. New York. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- "Our partners". February 15, 2018.
- "Train fleet - Rolling stock | VIA Rail". corpo.viarail.ca. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
- Email from Bruno Riendeau, Senior Advisor, Environment, to Alaric Hall, October 20, 2011. Cf. http://docs.wri.org/wri_co2comm_2002_commuting_protected.xls Archived January 12, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, sheet 8, cell C36 (figures from 2002) and http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/programs/environment-ecofreight-about-voluntary-racemissions2007-2-1134.htm Archived May 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- respectively http://docs.wri.org/wri_co2comm_2002_commuting_protected.xls Archived January 12, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, sheet 8, cell C33, figures from 2002; "Updated Comparison of Energy Use & CO2 Emissions From Different Transportation Modes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 15, 2013. Retrieved November 23, 2012. table 1.1, figures from 2007
- "Wayback Machine" (PDF). web.archive.org. March 24, 2009.
- 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.
- "Railway Investigation Report R94T0357". Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
- "Railway Investigation Report R97H0009". Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
- Canada, Government of Canada, Transportation Safety Board of. "Railway Investigation Report R99H0007".
- "Railway Investigation Report R01M0024". Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
- "Teen faces victims of N.S. train wreck". CBC. CBC News.
- Blackwell, Tom (April 22, 2013). "Canadian terrorist plot to attack Via train thwarted, two arrested: RCMP". National Post.
- Diana Mehta, Men convicted in Via terror plot handed life sentences, Canadian Press (September 23, 2016).
- Richard Warnica, Legal battle over convicted terrorist Chiheb Esseghaier’s sanity set as lawyers appointed for appeal, National Post (January 13, 2016).
- Richard Warnica, Would-be terrorist Chiheb Esseghaier is clearly insane, but should that even matter in court?, National Post (August 28, 2015).
- Commisso, Christina; Puzic, Sonja (September 18, 2013). "Via train and city bus crash in Ottawa, at least six dead, 30 injured". CTV News. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
- Canada, Transportation Safety Board of (July 11, 2018). "Rail transportation safety investigation R18W0168 - Transportation Safety Board". www.tsb.gc.ca. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
- "Railway incident presents emergency responders with unique challenge". www.saskhealthauthority.ca. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
- "Manitoba RCMP respond to passenger train derailment near Portage La Prairie". CJOB. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
- Allen, Tom (2001). Rolling Home: A Cross-Canada Railroad Memoir. Toronto: Penguin. ISBN 0-670-88473-1.
- Greenlaw, Christopher C. N. (2007). VIA Rail. Saint Paul, MN: MBI. ISBN 9780760325292. OCLC 71286639.
- Pindell, Terry (1992). Last train to Toronto: a Canadian rail odyssey. 115 West 18th Street, New York, New York 10011: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. ISBN 0-8050-1574-4.CS1 maint: location (link)
- Hanus, Chris & Shaske, John (2009). Canada By Train: The Complete Via Rail Travel Guide ISBN 978-0-9730897-5-2
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