This is a remarkable time to be working at VIA Rail. We are living a time of major transformation and, though it may sound bold, making history. Since our shift over two years ago to be a more customer focused organization, we have seen increases in our revenues and ridership—and faster than we anticipated. People are realizing that the train is the smarter way to travel, for both the environmental and economic health of Canada. Thanks to our successes, we are now in a position to optimistically plan for the long term. There are two green initiatives on the horizon that have the potential to completely transform our company and our passengers’ rail experience.
Our first endeavour is to replace the train fleet we use on our busiest routes between Québec City and Windsor. It’s time to update the train cars we’ve been using for decades. Our current fleet (the oldest in North America) is approaching the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced with modern equipment with green technology that will be more comfortable, consume less fuel and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. To prepare, we’ve reached out to our employees and to customer focus groups across our network. We are making sure to inform ourselves on what is important to our current passengers and our potential passengers, as well as to our employees, who understand best what we need to better serve the public.
Thinking on a larger scale, we are working on what I dare to say is one of the most exciting projects VIA has seen since its inception: the creation of a dedicated passenger rail corridor within the Québec City to Windsor corridor. We currently share the rails with freight trains, which has worked in the past, but the exponential increase of goods travelling by train and the increased demand for fast, frequent, and reliable passenger service have created a challenge to both VIA Rail and freight companies in Canada. We are proposing a railway dedicated to passengers. This would give us the freedom to control our schedule and offer our customers faster and more frequent service. Current trip times would be reduced by a third, getting you from Toronto to Montréal in less than four hours, or to Ottawa in two and a half. With a projected three times as many people taking the train, this green initiative would also relieve highway congestion, boost economic development, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and significantly reduce the government subsidies VIA Rail currently gets.
These innovative projects are now on our radar because more people have been taking the train over the past couple of years. Growth in ridership is the most eloquent statement of the need for increased service that only passenger-dedicated tracks can provide. In our new marketing campaign, we’re reaching out to travellers who have yet to consider leaving their cars behind and asking them one simple question: “Why don’t you take the train?” With a touch of humour these videos encourage Canadians to pause and revaluate their habits.
At VIA, we know the many benefits of taking the train, and more Canadians are getting onboard as well. But how about you – why don’t you take the train?