Public Values

Via Rail reduces Montreal-Halifax service

Cuts undermine recent investment to national passenger railway.

Greg Gormick to host series of town halls nationwide; brainstorm strategies for reclaiming Via Rail.HARTLAND, NB, June 27, 2012: Harold Nicholson, president of the public transportation users and advocacy group, Transport Action Atlantic, said the 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 Nicholson. "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."

  "Cutting rail passenger service reduces jobs and undermines economic growth."

In 2009, VIA began receiving $923 million for the largest capital renewal program in its 35-year history. Transport Action Atlantic 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 US 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 this shocking announcement is part of the usual Ottawa game," said Nicholson. "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 announced cuts — which are being protrayed by Via as "the next phase of its modernization project" — will affect four major passenger train routes. Among these is the Halifax-Montreal Ocean, which also serves such important regional centres as Truro, Sackville, Moncton, Bathurst and Campbellton. The train will be reduced from six departures in each direction weekly to three, effectively cutting Via service in half.

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 affiliates will soon be launching A National Dream Renewed: The Via Rail Canada Town Hall Workshops. Directed and facilitated by 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 Nicholson, "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."

Nicholson 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 Atlantic and four other regional associations in Québec (Transport 2000 Québec), Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia form Transport Action Canada, 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.

Links and sources
  Via Rail Canada cuts 'inexplicable' and 'wrong to the core': 'Death by a thousand cuts' continues while hundreds of millions invested in Via's renewal

Posted: June 29, 2012

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