Riding the National Dream becomes nightmarish – by Greg Gormick (Northern Ontario Business – August 28, 2017)


Greg Gormick is a Toronto transportation writer and policy adviser. His clients have included CP, CN, VIA and numerous elected officials and government transportation agencies.

To paraphrase a 1978 comedy-mystery film, “Who is killing the great trains of Canada?” The cast of characters is lengthy. Start with Liberal and Conservative governments, which have seen no value in a modern rail passenger system since VIA Rail was launched the same year as that movie.

Cue the fresh-faced Ottawa policy advisers whose credentials include rail-relevant work in cosmetics marketing; I kid you not. Add a dash of hostility by airlines and bus lines that want VIA’s subsidy diverted to their accounts. But there is no question who is slowly euthanizing the greatest of all Canadian passenger trains, the world-renowned Canadian on the Toronto-Sudbury-Vancouver route. It’s former Crown corporation Canadian National (CN).

Since it was privatized in 1995, CN has been extending the length of its freight trains, but not keeping pace by extending the sidings where opposing trains can “meet” each other or slower ones can be overtaken by faster ones, such as the Canadian. As a result, many CN employees now joke about the Canadian owning those short sidings.

When this started more than a decade ago, CN compelled VIA to add a night to the Canadian’s schedule, making it slower than it was in the days of steam locomotives and ice-cooled coaches. Its performance improved briefly, but is now at its lowest level ever, with only one in four trains arriving in Toronto or Vancouver as scheduled in 2016.

In recent months, the Canadian has arrived in Toronto up to 20 hours late. This throws people’s travel plans into disarray and drives VIA’s costs through the roof. Because of the lengthened schedule CN foisted on VIA in 2009, the latter doesn’t have enough cars to assemble an extra train in Toronto when the eastbound train arrives late from the West.

For the rest of this article: https://www.northernontariobusiness.com/columns/guests/riding-the-national-dream-becomes-nightmarish-702362