The president of Transport Action Prairie (TAP) is warning rumored cuts to VIA Rail could see the reduction in passenger rail service through Melville and Western Canada.
Ron Haskell of Melville says following the federal budget which chopped $20 million from VIA’s annual operating budget, the transcontinental “Canadian” which runs from Toronto to Vancouver three times a week could be cut to two times.
While VIA hasn’t announced any service reductions, the fact it has referred to “finetuning... of service, schedules and fares to serve markets more efficiently,” is cause for concern Haskell says. To head off any impending cuts, Haskell says it’s important the public approach their Members of Parliament along with representatives of other levels of government to make clear their opposition to service reductions.
“It’s all really going to depend on public support. Western Canada has borne the brunt of passenger rail cutbacks for several decades now and (governments) seem to be continuing that trend,” Haskell explains.
“If people from Western Canada just accept (reductions) then you can consider it to be a done deal.”
Transport Action Prairie with membership from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba has a mandate to act as an advocacy for better public transit, Haskell says, and there are troubling signs for the transcontinental service.
“Our members have been alerted to this that (government) want to reduce it to twice a week from the current three times a week, during the offseason. Traditonally the off-season is October until May.
“Nowadays they don’t even consider Christmas to be high season so that, in fact, may be included, too.”
Haskell points to the lack of attention directed to Western Canada by VIA in upgrading service. Today, the 10 worst VIA stations, Haskell says, are located in Western Canada and when VIA was given funding to upgrade stations, none in Western Canada – with the exception of Winnipeg’s – got upgrades.
The Melville VIA station is in need of maintenance: “It’s already showing serious signs of wear and tear and needs to be maintained. Something that is far, far down on VIA’s priority list.”
Interestingly enough, Haskell says, VIA ridership appears to be increasing. VIA counted 109,000 passengers rode the rails last year, an increase of 3,000 from the 2010 numbers. The short shrift given Western Canada stands in direct contrast to Central Canada where VIA carries 4.1 million customers with the overwhelming majority – 3.8 million – riding the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.
Rumors are circulating VIA might even cut service in Central Canada after seeing riders decreased by 12,000 last year compared to the previous year, but that’s unlikely to happen, Haskell suggests, because Easterners won’t accept it.
“People in Ontario and Quebec have expected high quality rail service. They demand it, they get it. People from Western Canada are a bit shy of it. They do not pester their Members of Parliament and as a consequence we have far, far inferior passenger rail service compared to what is afforded Ontario and Quebec.”
There’s been no official comment from VIA but Haskell says this could be dictated by the federal government which would prefer an reduction announcement would come this summer when Parliament is in recess, thus minimizing public criticism. And that’s why the public has to make known its desire to maintain VIA service, he says.
“If you really are concerned about it I urge you to let your Member of Parliament know, also the other levels of government can play their role in urging the federal government to improve upon VIA Rail’s passenger service.
“It’s an environmentally friendly service and something that’s becoming more and more important as we deal with issues of global warning and other environmental issues.”