VIA Rail Long-Distance Fleet focus of Transport Action federal budget recommendations

By Transport Action | National News

Jan 31
Passengers boarding VIA Rail's

Transport Action Canada has submitted its recommendations for consideration in federal budget 2024. As with our submission in 2023, the first item is the replacement of VIA Rail’s long-distance fleet, and this issue now has added urgency. If the Crown Corporation is not permitted to issue the RFP this year, it would not be possible for the industry to manufacture and deliver new equipment before the current equipment reaches the point where is no longer possible to maintain in regular main-line service and has to be withdrawn.

Even with the benefit of ongoing additional investments in repairs that will put further constraints on fleet availability in the coming years, a phased withdrawal of long-distance an remote services would have to begin in the early 2030s, with none of the current equipment likely to be able to remain in service beyond 2035.

Transport Action is asking all its supporters and everybody who values sustainable public transportation in Canada to also sign a petition to the House of Commons calling for renewal of the long-distance fleet, together with restoration of passenger train priority so that the new trains would be able to operate efficiently.

Failure to advance procurement in 2024 would be tantamount to a decision to cancel VIA Rail’s long-distance and remote services, beginning in the early 2030s.

A Strategic Rail Infrastructure Fund

Other recommendations include reiterating the need for a Strategic Rail Infrastructure Fund, guided by a Rail Strategy Task Force with representation from Infrastructure Canada, the Canada Infrastructure Bank, freight railways, and passenger operators.

Similar to substantial investments by the United States through the FRA, such as fund would:

  • Prioritize rebuilding the Chignecto Isthmus sea defences to avert a failure which would sever both the railway and highway, catastrophically incapacitating eastern Canada’s supply chain.
  • Accelerate the replacement of the aging New Westminster Rail Bridge, already studied by the CIB, to relieve a critical 10mph bottleneck for freight and passenger service in the BC Lower Mainland.
  • Perform a National Infrastructure Review to identify investments necessary for climate and geopolitical resilience and substantial modal shift to reduce GHG emission and improve supply chain fluidity.

Ensuring a coordinated rather than piecemeal approach to strengthening Canada’s infrastructure, including consolidating some existing funding programs, would maximize the value obtained.

Canada’s investments in capacity, to address bottlenecks, and renewing legacy infrastructure would assist the freight railways, so Transport Action continues to call for a Fair Rail for Passengers Act that would provide parliamentary oversight of our passenger network, facilitate additional services to meet demand, ensure fair train path pricing, and assure public benefit from these public investments.

Transport Action is also making specific requests for reconciliation-focussed approaches to restoring passenger services in the Algoma region of northern Ontario and reopening the railway on Vancouver Island.

A Permanent Transit Fund and No Tax on Transit

Mismatched capital and operating funding for transit between different levels of government results in existing fleet capacity being idled, or capital funding intended to address service gaps going unused, with CUTA statistics suggesting that hundreds of transit vehicles are idled due to lack of operating funding, even while some cities are seeing ridership exceed pre-pandemic levels and others are unable to attract ridership back due to service cuts.

Therefore, we are asking that the Permanent Public Transit Fund be expanded to ensure financial stability for public transit and commuter rail operating costs.

We are also repeating our call for the removal of GST on public transport fares, which currently impacts intercity rail and motorcoach services.

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