Monday, 15 October 2007

It's about Time Department: Via Rail to Get More Money

Last week the Canadian federal govenrment announced increased funding for Via Rail, Canada’s passenger train service. The Crown corporation is supposed to get $691.9 million over the next five years, most of which will go to rebuilding Via Rail’s fleet of locomotives and rolling stock. Via Rail’s budget has been more or less frozen since 1998, but even with these troubles the train service has actually been picking up customers: last year its ridership went from 3.8 million to 4.1 million.

The heavily-traveled Windsor to Quebec City route sees most of the passenger travel, with six trains daily between Toronto and Montreal. The 504 kilometer (313 mile) trip takes between slightly more than four hours to five and a half hours. If you’re going centre-city to centre-city the fast trains take just about as much time as travel to and from the airports and flight time. As it happens, I’m going to Toronto this Thursday on the train that leaves at 6:55 a.m. from Central Station here and is scheduled to get into Union Station in downtown Toronto at 11:23 a.m. That means I can take a five minute taxi ride from home about 6:30 a.m., have several uninterrupted hours on the train to catch up on some reading I’ve got to do, and then arrive in TO with plenty of time for meetings in the afternoon. Much more civilized—and slightly cheaper—than taking the plane which would require expensive and lengthy taxi rides at either end plus the hassle of airport security. Not to mention the issue of energy conservation and reduction of green house gas emissions: intercity diesel-powered train travel takes only a third the energy that domestic airplane travel does. (See the excellent Hydro-Quebec publication Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation Options.)

Of course, this is nothing like train travel in Europe where. for example, the 409 kilometer trip by TGV from Paris to Lyon, takes under two hours--hardly enough time for a good nap--with six departures a day.

But the funding promise is good news. As The Toronto Star quoted David Jeanes, president of Transport 2000, on Thursday: "VIA has been on a starvation diet. ... There is an urgent need for funding for state-of-good repair alone." He added: "We're hoping to see sufficient funds announced by the government (today) to really deal with some of these issues.”

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