Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and NDP Transport Critic introduced Bill C-371 the Rail Passenger Priority Act for a First Reading in the House of Commons on December 13, 2023.
“As many in this chamber know, Canada lags behind much of the world when it comes to passenger rail. One of the key reasons for that is because passenger trains in Canada frequently have to pull off and make way for freight trains. This results in poor on-time performance.
This bill would amend the Canada Transportation Act to give passenger trains in Canada priority on the tracks, just as federal law does in the United States and as was recently recommended by the CEO of VIA Rail.
Canada has the opportunity to seize the full potential of safe, convenient, climate-friendly passenger rail in this country.”Taylor Bachrach MP – Watch on ParlVU
The bill responds to widespread and longstanding concern about the on-time performance of Canada’s passenger trains, and VIA Rail President and CEO Mario Péloquin’s recent call for the federal government to provide passenger trains with right of way over freight trains.
Delays to trains, including those hidden in schedule padding and extended layover times, severely limit VIA Rail’s ability to serve passengers efficiently and maximize use of its train fleet. Most notably, many hours added to the schedule of the Canadian have forced the third weekly departure to be dropped from the timetable, because the four sets of equipment available can no longer complete round trips quickly enough.
Since 1993, when a passenger could travel from Toronto to Montreal in 3h59 on the Metropolis or 4h30 on other trains, up to an hour has been added to the schedule, and travel times in southwestern Ontario have also been extended. For passengers making connections through Toronto, transfer times are also longer to guard against missed connections.
Proposals for passenger priority have been advanced before, notably in Bill C-640 the VIA Rail Canada Act advanced by Philip Toone (NDP, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine) in 2013 and defeated by the Conservative government in 2015, which would have also permitted passenger operators to electrify routes they operate on.
As private member’s bill, C-371 is unlikely to receive further time in the parliamentary calendar, yet it sends a signal to the government that it should consider incorporating such passenger priority in future government legislation.
Transport Action would like the government to introduce a Fair Rail for Passengers Act that defines the rights and responsibilities of VIA Rail Canada and other passenger operators, with respect both to host railways and to passengers, and has expressed concern that the government expects the bidders in the High Frequency Rail procurement process to put forward plans to operate in the Quebec-Windsor corridor without first providing regulatory clarity around track access and on-time performance.