Thank you VIA for being late 23% of the time

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

London VIA Rail station

Jon Purdy

"LIVIN' IN A LONELY WORLD ... SHE TOOK THE MIDDAY TRAIN GOIN' ... NOWHERE?" When you take a train with VIA Rail, you better bring along some quality, lengthy, engrossing reading material. It runs a punctual train as often as Journey writes a hit song these days.

From coast-to-coast, VIA Rail can get you from Halifax to Vancouver, though not necessarily on time.

A September report, obtained by the Canadian Press, revealed on average 23 per cent of VIA Rail’s trains were late in 2007 " well above VIA’s target of 10 per cent.

The report showed delay minutes increased by approximately 60 per cent from 2006, with increases in every part of the country.

Over the summer, the route from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba had a dismal performance. Ten of 26 trains never arrived, and the trains that did arrive were four hours late on average.

The route between Montreal and Halifax saw delays 60 per cent of the time, while the trains running between Toronto and Vancouver were two hours and 42 minutes late on average.

Sierra Jenkins, a first-year social science student, recalled one incident where she needed to transfer trains on the way home.

“I went home once ... we got in five minutes before the train was supposed to leave.”

Lateness also was a problem for Aaron Gelbard, a first-year arts and humanities student.

“One time I went to pick up my girlfriend at 5:30 p.m. The train didn’t show up until 8 p.m.”

The report cited major locomotive failures as one of the main causes of VIA Rail delays.

“Regular overhauls and scheduled maintenance no longer ensure reliability,” the report noted.

Catherine Kaloutsky, senior officer of media and corporate communications for VIA, answered some allegations in a press release.

“The reliability of VIA’s locomotive fleet, 70 per cent of which has been in service for over 20 years, has increasingly become a significant cause of delays.”

In addition VIA operates on tracks owned by CN Rail and its trains must allow freight trains to pass.

Kaloutsky added rail blockages due to freight derailments, protests, poor track conditions and congestion were factors in the delayed trains.

Transport Canada is the government agency that funds VIA Rail. VIA receives an annual federal subsidy of $170 million for the service’s 4.1 million passengers.

A Transport Canada representative outlined some federal government initiatives to help VIA with its late trains.

“[The government] has injected about $700 million into VIA,” a representative from Transport Canada said. “These funds were needed to just keep operations going, as the previous [Liberal] government had frozen funding since 1998.”

Along with repairing infrastructure, the money would go to repairing aging locomotives.

The refurbished locomotives would also be more environmentally friendly.

VIA’s press release was positive about the investment, stating the money would add another “15 to 20 years to [the locomotives’] useful life.”

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