VIA Rail’s Lumi train is a tribute to the Turbo. Will it go as fast?

By Transport Action | Intercity Rail and Bus

Jul 10
VIA Rail's special

VIA Rail formally named its most recently delivered Venture train Lumi in Montreal on July 10, 2024. The consist, locomotive 2218 and coaches 2×17, carries a striking yellow livery with a black window stripe and large VIA logo in white stretching across the locomotive and first business-class car. VIA Rail believes the specially-painted consist, which is also linked to a marketing campaign for the new fleet, will “act as a reminder of the beginning of a new era for passenger rail.” It soon begin test runs, prior to entering regular service in August.

VIA Rail’s announcement confirmed that the chosen livery is a one-off, and partly intended as a tribute to the CN/VIA Turbo trains that operated between Toronto and Montreal until 1982 and set Canadian passenger rail speed record of 140.6 mph on April 22, 1976. That speed record still stands, and the Venture fleet, although designed of 125 mph (200 km/h) in service and potentially capable of even higher speeds in testing, will remain limited to 100 mph by Canada’s track standards for the immediate future, just as the P42 and LRC locomotives were before it. Similarly, the Turbos was restricted to 95 mph in service, squandering their high-speed capabilities due to Canada’s underinvestment in infrastructure, although even with that limitation they could complete the trip between Toronto and Montreal in 3h59, nearly an hour faster than the best current schedule of 4h53.

Transport Action believes that Transport Canada should be helping VIA Rail to maximize the value of Canada’s investment in these new trains, including regulating for timely dispatching of passenger trains on tracks shared with freight, supporting VIA Rail in delivering faster and more frequent service on the VIA-owned tracks between Ottawa and Montreal in advance of the now-delayed High Frequency Rail project, and adopting equivalents of FRA track classes 6 and 7 to enable infrastructure upgrades. Investment in the route between Ottawa and Montreal would deliver rapid results while also preparing for future HFR operations, and addressing such long-standing standards gaps will also be vital to procurement and delivery of HFR.

The delay to the HFR project, originally envisaged as using a follow-on order for the Venture trains and in service to meet intercity demand by the mid-2020s, also means the new fleet will now have to provide enough capacity on the existing infrastructure to keep pace with rapidly growing Quebec-Windsor corridor travel demand over the next decade. With legacy fleet consists now being lengthened to seven or eight cars on many Toronto-Montreal departures just to meet current demand, this means that Transport Canada ought to be helping VIA Rail to secure additional train paths to increase service frequencies, which could be operated using the 32 new trains to provide equivalent capacity. Ordering further economy-class cars to lengthen some of the five-car Venture consists may still become necessary, considering the rapid pace of ridership growth.