With Greyhound set to end bus service from Sudbury to the west coast of BC, there is now an opening for VIA Rail to deliver needed public transportation and expand passenger rail markets in Northern Ontario. However, the Montreal-based bosses at the Crown corporation are not up to that job.
With Greyhound runs disappearing by November, places like Thunder Bay are now calling for the return of VIA passenger rail to their communities via the CP Rail line. VIA Rail’s response? A refusal to speak to the CBC about the issue and a statement that they will not be increasing services. What an incredibly disrespectful reply to give to isolated Northern municipalities and First Nations, whose residents may now need to take unnecessary travel risks.
VIA is mandated to provide accessible intercity and remote passenger rail services to Canadians – this is what we pay taxes for and what Transport Canada subsidizes. Transport Minister Marc Garneau loves to brag about how he takes VIA Rail from Montreal to Ottawa for Parliament. However, it seems only his rail travel is essential and not that of a young student or senior trying to make it across the Canadian Shield in winter for school or a medical appointment.
Sadly, I don’t think current VIA Rail management could actually deliver effective rail service in Northern Ontario. VIA staff and railroaders themselves are professional – I’ve met many – but they’re handcuffed by a leadership team that makes bad access deals with freight railroads resulting in criminally-late trains. The transcontinental VIA train that travels from Toronto to Vancouver, on the CN Rail line 3 hours north of Thunder Bay, has run 30 to 45 hours late this year.
VIA Rail must devolve relevant operations from Montreal to create a Northern Ontario-based regional hub that is accountable to Northern citizens and our travel needs. The expertise is here, the need is evident and the fact that VIA’s board and management cannot see that is further proof they are not up to the task. This taxpayer and rail advocate is done asking VIA to lead – their job now (and Garneau’s) is to simply meet our requests.
Iron Bridge, ON