Via Rail

infobox SG rail
railroad_name=VIA Rail Canada
logo_filename=VIA Rail Canada Logo.svg

map_caption=VIA Rail system map
hq_city=3, Place Ville-Marie, Montreal, Quebec

VIA Rail Canada (also referred to as VIA Rail and VIA; pronEng|ˈviːə 'vee-ah') is an independent Crown corporation offering intercity passenger rail services in Canada.

VIA Rail Canada operates 480 trains in eight Canadian provinces (exceptions are Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island) over a network of convert|14000|km|mi of track spanning the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Great Lakes to Hudson Bay. VIA Rail carries approximately four million passengers annually.cite web | url=| publisher=ViaRail | title=Via Rail Annual Report 2005| date=2005 | accessdate=2006-11-10 ] It sees the majority of its traffic between Windsor, Ontario and Quebec City, Quebec on the "Quebec City – Windsor Corridor" commonly known as "The Corridor".


Early Canadian intercity passenger rail

The post-war era saw two developments which would eventually prove disastrous to previously profitable passenger rail transport offered by Canadian National Railways (CNR), the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and smaller lines: long-distance Canadian intercity passenger trains began to be replaced with air travel, and short- and middle-distance passenger trains underwent dramatic restructuring with many being eliminated outright following increased use of personal cars on highways such as the Trans-Canada Highway. Critics of this shift point out that all these new services were subsidized by taxpayers, from construction of highways to construction of airports, making it difficult for rail to compete; opponents of rail point out that the construction of the railways themselves was similarly subsidized. (Ironically, both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific themselves contributed to the growth of air travel through Air Canada and CP Air, which were the two largest airlines in Canada at one time).

By the 1960s it was obvious to both Canadian National (known as CN after 1960) and CPR that passenger trains were no longer economically viable under traditional market manifestations. CPR sought to rid itself of the burden of operating passenger trains, but federal government regulators and politicians balked, forcing CPR to continue running a minimal service through the 1970s. CN on the other hand, being a Crown corporation, 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 Turbo trains saw substantial increases in ridership, reversing previous declines.

By the 1970s CN sought to rid itself of passenger trains. The decline of passenger rail became a federal election issue in 1974 when the government of Pierre Trudeau promised to implement a nation-wide carrier similar to Amtrak in the United States. The bilingual name VIA or VIA CN originated in 1976 as a marketing term for Canadian National's passenger train services and 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.

The formation of VIA Rail Canada

On April 1, 1978, Canadian National's passenger subsidiary VIA Rail became a separate Crown corporation, taking with it possession of former CN passenger cars and locomotives. Following several months of negotiation, on October 29, 1978, VIA took over operation of CP passenger train services, along with similar 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. In excess of 150 scheduled trains per week were in operation, including transcontinental services, regional trains, and corridor services.

While VIA Rail 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 an actual legislation passed by Parliament. If VIA were enabled by actual 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 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.

First round of cuts

However, increased ridership 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 Rail's budget, leading to a 40% reduction in the company's operations. Gone in an instant 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 utilised advanced technology such as active tilt to increase speed, but proved troublesome and would take 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).

Restoration of service

The election of Prime Minister 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 formidable then-Saint John mayor Elsie Wayne). 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 and remains the worst accident in modern Canadian railway history in terms of loss of life.

econd round of cuts

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 deep-rooted western bitterness toward Ottawa.

The official justification for the rerouting was that the trains would serve more remote communities, but the concentration of Conservative-held ridings along the CN route attracted the charge that the move was chiefly political.

It was also notable that Harvie André, one of Alberta's federal cabinet ministers who represented Calgary, was fairly public about the fact that he did not care if he never saw a passenger train again in his life.

Emerging out of these disastrous 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, defined as 'Head End Power') and LRC cars, as well as rationalizing its locomotive fleet with GM and Bombardier (LRC) units.

Third round of cuts

VIA was not spared from further cutbacks in Prime Minister 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".

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 coincidentally the only two Progressive Conservative Party Members of Parliament in Canada were elected in the 1993 federal election which saw Chrétien's Liberal Party take power. The "Ocean" service which was preserved operates on trackage 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. Interestingly, a remote VIA service to Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula, the "Chaleur" was also spared from being cut at this time, despite having less ridership than the "Atlantic".


By the late 1990s, rising environmental concerns focusing on reducing dependence on automobiles and airplanes (see Kyoto Accord), as well as rail-friendly Minister of Transport David Collenette, saw 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. [ [ Transport 2000 Hotline ] ] New diesel-electric 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 rider-friendly destinations, with several hosting co-located transit and regional bus hubs for various municipalities.

On October 24, 2003, federal Minister of Transport David Collenette announced $700 million in new funding over the next 5 years. This funding was far below the $3 billion needed to implement a high-speed rail proposal in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor nicknamed "VIA-Fast", 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 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.

Fourth round of cuts

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.

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, the Montreal-Toronto overnight "Enterprise", which was discontinued in September 2005, and the Sarnia–Chicago International Limited.

VIA's role in the Sponsorship Scandal

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 Canada 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 adequately defend himself against the allegations in the Auditor General's report, LeFrançois was fired as well.

Increasing problems and reinstated funding

The reversal of funding in 2003 lead 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.cite web |title = Via gets hundreds of millions in federal funding |publisher = CBC |date = 2007-10-11 |url = |accessdate = 2007-10-11 ]

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 F40 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. [cite web |title=Backgrounder: New Funding For VIA Rail Canada |publisher= VIA Rail |date = 2007-10-11 |url = |accessdate=2007-10-23 ] 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. [cite web |title=Via train late? You're not alone |publisher=The Globe and Mail |date = 2007-10-20 |url= |accessdate=2007-10-23 ]

Traveling 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 riders, communities, and contexts. The results are wide ranging travel experiences depending on how far you're traveling and from where to where.

Classes of service


* "Comfort" — Economy class seating in the coach cars. Depending on the train number, seats are assigned or first-come-first-serve. If the latter, passengers are often segregated into specific train cars according to passenger destination. All trains that operate on the "Corridor" offer pay-per-use 802.11b WiFi access. Snacks, beverages and sandwiches are sold cash and carry.
* "VIA 1" — First class seating in the club car. VIA 1 passengers are given more spacious seating, window blinds, inclusive hot three-course meals complete with complimentary boutique chocolate, wine and liqueurs and in-seat AC power outlets along with pay-per-use WiFi access. VIA 1 passengers are also granted priority boarding and access to the Panorama Lounges at major urban stations.
* "Sleeper" (also known as "Comfort Sleeper") — As a class provided to late night passengers on lengthy routes, the sleeper class provides berth sections and single, double and triple bedrooms which feature bunkbeds, electrical outlet, chairs and a private washroom. Each sleeper car is equipped with a public shower.


* "Silver & Blue" — A deluxe inclusive travel package onboard the "Canadian", which features Sleeper Class accommodation, first-class meals in the Dining car, and access to the Skyline car and viewing salons in the glass-domed Park car. Passengers are also given priority boarding over Comfort Class and access to the Silver & Blue Lounge in Toronto Union Station.
* "Easterly" — All-inclusive tour package onboard the "Ocean" with access to a tour guide (known as the "Learning Coordinator"), Sleeper accommodation, first-class meals and access to the Park car. Passengers also receive priority boarding and access to the Panorama Lounge in Montreal station.
* "Totem" — Access to the Park car onboard the "Skeena". A sub-class called Totem Deluxe provides its passengers with seating in the Panorama car. Totem and Totem Deluxe operates from May to September.

Compared to other train systems

Travel on VIA involves protocols that may make traveling on VIA trains somewhat different for seasoned train travellers from other parts of the world. The boarding practices, especially at larger stations, are in some respects similar to plane travel, rather than the usual free boarding from platforms experienced elsewhere, as in the UK.

Via maintains a comprehensive seating system comparable to plane travel, and requires every passenger to have a seat. Inevitably this means that while there may be actual empty seats on a departing train for instance, they might not be available since the seats are reserved for passengers using the train for a portion of its journey. Although this is not significantly different from other train systems, Via also does not allow standing room on its trains unlike local services in Quebec and Ontario. This might be due to Federal transport regulations. This results in 'full' or 'sold-out' trains which cannot be boarded by standing passengers.

Boarding & Deboarding, seating and coaches

In large stations, such as Toronto or Montreal, VIA maintains an extremely orchestrated boarding procedure due to management of its seating arrangements. Passengers line up and are escorted to designated coaches for their destinations rather than being permitted to board 'rush style' directly from the platform. At both Montreal and Toronto, and many other Corridor stations, VIA has yet to install ticket barriers, so tickets are checked manually at the time of boarding, and then collected once on the train. Depending on the train seating is either rush (once you're permitted on the specified coach) or it is assigned prior to boarding. Oddly enough this boarding system is reminiscent of plane checking and travel rather than train travel, making the experience of VIA's trains confounding for the more experienced train traveler.In smaller stations passengers are permitted on platforms, but, as above, are ushered towards specific coaches rather than being permitted to board the entire train.The apparent rational behind such mechanics is governed by the detraining and entraining of coaches for various destinations, as outside Brockville for some Toronto–Montreal/Ottawa trains, and because of platform lengths at smaller stations.

For longer journeys this inevitably means there is no 'turn over' of passengers within coaches—something notable to train travel elsewhere. Equally, because coaches consist of passengers going to the same destination, there tends to be no regard for types of train travel experiences - for instance, there are no 'quiet' coaches where headphones and cellphones are banned or have limited use, nor coaches designated for families travelling with small children.

Deboarding Via trains is not as laborious as boarding, however, because there is no movement between coaches, and only one exit per coach, it can take significantly longer than one might expect. The situation is complicated by having all onboard luggage stored in one location next to the only exit. For mid-train coaches it can be easier to exit towards the rear of the coach passing the washrooms to use the exit of the following coach rather than waiting for the long line up.


Via offers pre-boarding assistance to those passengers requiring extra time to board its trains. Though, as platform heights vary across Via stations, actual accessibility may vary. Attention is required when boarding or deboarding trains as there may be steps or a small 'bridge' over the gap between train and platform. In situations like Montreal, this small bridge makes Via coaches easily accessible, while at other stations for some passengers the climb from platform level into the coach could be, depending on mobility, problematic. Wheelchair access in these instances is a notable concern.

Routes and connections

The Corridor (Windsor – Quebec City)

The Corridor trains run from Windsor, Ontario in the west through southern Ontario to south-western Quebec to Quebec City. The area is offers the greatest concentration of VIA trains.


VIA's Toronto–Montreal service runs between 5-6 trains daily with an express departing both cities at 17:00. Journey times vary depending on the actual train, with the 17:00 expresses (66 & 67) taking approximately 4 hours 45 minutes, to the following journeys departing at 18:20 from Toronto (68) and 1835 from Montreal (69) taking roughly 5 hours and 38 minutes.While travel on the express train is relatively easy (it stops only at Oshawa and Dorval), the 68 & 69 trains can be tedious as they stop at every station between these two large cities.

ummary of Via Routes

Here is a table summarizing Via's routes across the country.cite web | url= | publisher=VIARail | title=VIA Rail / All our trains| date=2006 | accessdate=2006-11-10 ]

Demo units

ee also

Railway companies that used to carry passengers include:
* Canadian National Railway — former Crown corporation
* Canadian Pacific Railway

Other publicly owned regional passenger carriers:
* Ontario Northland Railway
* GO Transit
* Agence métropolitaine de transport
* West Coast ExpressVIA may maintain the railcars for some of these services, such as West coast Express.

Privately owned Canadian VIA Rail competitors and connecting lines:
* 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 between Sault Saint Marie and Hearst, Ontario. Owned by CN.


* [ Renaissance for passenger cars]
* [ VIA Rail locomotive roster]

Further reading

* cite book
title = Rolling Home: A Cross-Canada Railroad Memoir
author = Allen, Tom
year = 2001
publisher = Penguin
location = Toronto
id = ISBN 0-670-88473-1

External links

* [ VIA Rail Corporate Web Site]
* [ VIA Rail Corporate Web Site targeted at students]
* [ CBC News Indepth: Via Rail]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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