VIA Rail Canada announced on December 12 that Siemens Canada has been selected as the successful bidder in its fleet renewal program for the Quebec-Windsor Corridor. This is a day that Transport Action Ontario and our affiliate organizations have long campaigned for, and we welcome this federal investment in VIA Rail and environmentally responsible transportation.
The value of the contract is $989M to build 32 new bi-directional trainsets (160 passenger cars and 40 locomotives) plus a 15 year Technical Services and Spare Supply Agreement valued at $23.7M/yr. The first trains are expected to be delivered for testing in 2022, and to be phased in across the Quebec-Windsor corridor over the following two years.
The fleet will be assembled at Siemens plant in Sacramento, California, although Siemens has pledged to source 20% of the parts and services from Canadian suppliers, establishing procurement offices in Ontario and Quebec.
The fleet is based on the Siemens Viaggio design, which has been operating on Austria’s express intercity “Railjet” service across Europe since 2006. This design has also proven itself in North America on Brightline’s express rail services between Miami and West Palm Beach, which will soon be extended to Orlando and Tampa under the Virgin Trains USA brand. Similar equipment is also on order for Amtrak’s Midwestern services and to replace older equipment on California’s inter-city rail services.
The passenger cars will have fast wireless internet, bicycle spaces, quiet zones, and will surpass current universal accessibility standards. They will feature wide aisles, larger washrooms, level boarding at stations with high platforms like Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, and automatic lifts for accessibility at other stations, helping to fulfill VIA Rail’s commitment to Canadian disability and veterans’ groups.
The trains will run at up to 160 km/h on existing routes, including tracks which VIA Rail services share with CN’s freight operations, and are capable of operating at more than 200 km/h if the federal government also approves VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail proposal to provide dedicated passenger tracks in parts of the corridor.
The new equipment could also be used to improve service frequencies and reduce travel times in Southwestern Ontario if Ontario’s new government transforms the previous government’s exploration of High Speed Rail into a targeted investment in maximizing the utility of existing rail corridors.
VIA Rail states that it undertook a fair, open, rigorous and transparent procurement process following the best international practices in this field. However, the decision to award the contract to an international bidder has come under fire from Unifor and Quebec politicians who would prefer to have seen a Canadian supplier win. In defence, VIA claims that the Siemens bid was far superior to all other bids in schedule, quality and price. Meanwhile, Bombardier Canada has benefited from numerous orders for its highly successful bi-level commuter equipment, both from Canadian and US transit agencies, including an order for up to 999 cars for New Jersey Transit worth as much as $3.6 billion, clearly demonstrating that Canadian workers also enjoy the advantages of bilateral trade in the rail industry.
VIA Rail is also investing $154M in refurbishing its fleet of Budd-built stainless steel passenger cars for transcontinental and regional services, providing updated seating, wheelchair lifts and fully accessible bathrooms. These contracts, and a contract for refurbishing four dinning cars, have all been awarded to Canadian companies, supporting some 300 jobs in Quebec.
With the “Renaissance” fleet of British-built cars on the Ocean service to Halifax also in need of replacement, Transport Action hopes to see federal funding to refurbish more of VIA Rail’s stainless steel sleeping cars in the near future, a contract that is also likely to go to a Canadian facility.