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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Is this any way to run a railway?

I have a friend in Fredericton, New Brunswick, who is at this moment trapped on a VIA Rail passenger train somewhere east of Quebec City, ostensibly on his way to Montreal. He is corresponding with me by e-mail from his Blackberry, and he sounds increasingly desperate. He was supposed to catch a connecting train to Belleville Ontario this morning for a scheduled arrival at 1:13 pm today. His train has been motionless on the tracks since 8:00 this morning, and he will be unable to make the last connection out of Montreal tonight.

Conditions on the train must be very unpleasant - passengers (including many small children) haven't showered or changed clothes for over 24 hours, and VIA has provided them with exactly one meal since the train stopped. No one can tell the passengers why the train is stopped, when it will start moving again, or what will happen to them when they arrive in Montreal having missed their connections, although they did inform my friend that there is an eastbound passenger train stuck in similar circumstances on the other side of Quebec City.

All this would be bad enough, but my friend was in almost the same situation on December 16 on a VIA train from Montreal to Moncton, NB. That weekend's snow storm apparently did something to switches on the line, and he was trapped on a motionless train for fourteen hours somewhere near Quebec City. He arrived home a day late and missed a day of work as a result.

Is this any way to run a passenger rail service? I understand that inclement winter weather can wreak havoc on transportation schedules, but come on - people take trains in the winter because they're supposed to be able to operate in heavy snow. And it's not like bad winter weather is unusual - this is Canada, for crying out loud. Are you telling me that VIA has no contingency plans for these situations? Why haven't the passengers been unloaded and taken by bus to Quebec City? Why isn't VIA prepared to handle passenger service in inclement weather?

This is almost laughable when you read VIA's corporate mission statement :
Our Vision :
At VIA, we will be the Canadian leader of service excellence in passenger transportation.
Our Mission :
We will work together to efficiently provide travel experiences that anticipate the needs and exceed the expectations of our customers.
Our Values :
Customer Focus
We appreciate and listen to our customers, and we innovate to provide the best passenger transportation experience at the best value for money.
Respect
We are human - people who respond with integrity to the needs of our customers, to each other and to the people and communities we serve.
Passion
We are dedicated to and passionate about our business, as well as the role we play in Canada's development, and we will go the extra mile to ensure that VIA Rail continues to be successful.

OK then - when you're not happy with VIA's service, you take your business to a competitor. OOPS - VIA is a Crown Corporation which has a monopoly on passenger rail service in Canada. One wonders if VIA's lack of competition and dependence on heavy subsidies from Ottawa has anything to do with the fact that it treats its passengers like freight. It's pretty easy to be "the Canadian leader of service excellence in passenger transportation" when you're the only rail passenger service available. My friend has had it with VIA - from now on, he's flying WestJet.

UPDATE: My friend finally arrived in Belleville, after an overnight stay in Montreal, THIRTY HOURS LATE. Case closed.

2 comments:

IngenuityGap said...

I used to take the train back and forth between Edmonton and Brandon Manitoba. I stopped after my last three trips all had "engine related" 6 hour+ delays.


Which is really a shame, I like taking the train if the trip is under 24 hours. It's a decent way to travel.

Right from Hamilton said...

Couple of Issues with What you say.

1) Track Problems are the fault of private freight railroads.

2) There are no competitors because VIA Rail was created to preserve passenger rail when it was going to be abandoned.

3) There are no-Via operators (Rocky Mountain Rail Tours, Ontario Northland, Algoma Central (I think they still have it))

4) The big investment needs to be made into rail infrastructure to make both freight and passenger rail competitive