Farewell to Renaissance in the Corridor

By Transport Action | Intercity Rail and Bus

May 24
VIA Rail Renaissance and Venture trains at Ottawa on May 24 2024, with passengers arriving from Montreal. Photo by Tiernan Johnson CC-BY-4.0

VIA Rail’s Renaissance trains in the Quebec-Windsor corridor are being retired with introduction of VIA Rail’s summer timetable on May 27, 2024.

The last run by a Renaissance train in the corridor is train 37 from Quebec to Montreal on Sunday May 26, with passengers transferring to a new Venture train in Montreal to complete the journey to Ottawa. With half of the new Venture fleet now delivered, nine of the new trains will be in daily use with all Quebec-Montreal-Ottawa trains normally being operated by the new fleet.

Update: For operational reasons, VIA Rail has extended Renaissance operations until June 1, 2024. Train 29 from Quebec City to Montreal is now expected to be the final revenue journey.

Originally designed for Nightstar overnight services through the Channel Tunnel, the equipment never entered service in Europe, and was acquired by VIA Rail in 2001, while David Collenette was Minister of Transport and supporting investment in passenger rail, and introduced as part of VIA Rail’s Renaissance of Passenger Rail program in 2002, re-equipping the Ocean between Montreal and Halifax and adding capacity in the Quebec-Windsor corridor.

VIA Rail Renaissance Coach Seating in Comfort/Economy class,
Photo by Tiernan Johnson CC BY-4.0

Modifications for use in Canada included the addition of step traps for boarding from low platforms, and the conversion of unfinished sleeping car shells into baggage-transition cars to allow the fleet to operate with north American locomotives, including the GE P42 locomotives also ordered for VIA Rail in 2001. Both VIA 1 (business) and Comfort (economy) class cars featured 2+1 seating. Originally designed to run at up to 125mph (200 km/h), the trains did not get the chance to operate at “high performance rail” speed in Canada, and investments stalled again with the federal government’s cancellation of the Renaissance II program in December 2003.

The Renaissance sleeping cars were also used on the Enterprise, an overnight service between Montreal and Toronto that had been reinstated in 2000, replacing the Cavalier that was lost in the cuts of 1990. However, this new service was short-lived, and was withdrawn in September 2005.

Five sets of the Renaissance equipment were used in the corridor at first, but the British-built equipment was less reliable than hoped for under Canadian conditions, particularly in winter, with only two sets being available for service in later years and plans to return more of the equipment to service being shelved once the new fleet order was confirmed.

The Renaissance equipment used for long-distance service between Montreal and the Maritimes will have to continue operating until replacement equipment becomes available, with procurement expected to start shortly but delivery not expected until at least the early 2030s. The cars withdrawn from corridor service are therefore likely to be used for parts to maintain the remainder of the fleet.

Photos by Tiernan Johnson CC BY-4.0