June 27, 2012

Transport Action BC calls VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core'

Here is a press release from Transport Action BC concerning planned cuts to VIA Rail Canada's passenger train service. Our AAWA Executive Director Lloyd Flem had this comment: "The national and/or provincial governments of most of the G20 countries have relatively greater ongoing commitments to intercity passenger rail than does the US, the exception being our neighbors to the north. The Obama Administration, plus several of our states, including Washington, are ahead of the Canadian Federal Government and provinces in passenger train investment.. One hopes that all of North America will someday soon join the other G20s in the 21st Century rail renaissance that is a vital part of today’s Europe, East Asia, and even some emerging economies."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Media Contacts:
David Jeanes             Matthew Buchanan
(613) 594-3290        (250) 572-1192