With the launch of VIA Rail’s new reservation system on November 18, 2023, a new baggage policy will also come into effect. This has been anticipated for some time because of changes in the amount of luggage space available with the introduction of in the new Venture trains, which have allocated more space to accessibility and will have spaces for bicycles.
Here’s what you need to know:
First, if you’ve already booked a trip or make your booking before November 18, the baggage policy in effect when you booked will still apply to your journey.
Second, the fees for additional bags paid for in advance through the new system will be lower: $25 plus tax per direction rather than the $40 (tax included) charge that has applied since 2017, and you’ll now be able to collect VIA Preference points on these fees, which you couldn’t before. Just don’t forget to add your bag in advance, because a fee of $50 will be charged on boarding if baggage space is still available.
Since 2017, youth and student passengers have enjoyed a valuable bonus: A second large carry-on free on corridor trains, even though the 10% student discount only applied to Economy Plus fares. The announcement of the new baggage policy suggest that this will not continue, and it also appears that over 18s will now pay a regular adult fare. This change will have an adverse impact on one of VIA’s most important customer segments and is likely to cause some students to choose motorcoach travel instead of the train.
The free luggage allowance for economy class passengers is changing from one large suitcase (30 x 19 x 12 in) or two smaller ones (21.5 x 15.5 x 9 in.), to a single medium-size one (25 x 16 x 12 in), although it may still weigh up to 50 lbs (23 kg). Passengers in the corridor may add one additional large carry-on bag for $25.
On long-distance trains, no additional carry-ons are permitted, and there are no longer any free checked bags for economy class passengers, but up to three additional bags or oversize items may be checked for $25 each, unless making a connection with a corridor train, in which case the limit is two.
There is only a minor change for cabin baggage in Sleeper and Prestige class, specifying one small bag per passenger rather than two per cabin. Packing light has always been essential, due to limited space in the cabins, with all other baggage being checked in.
However, checked baggage is changing more significantly: Passengers are now limited to the two large items of checked baggage included in their fare if they are making a connection with a corridor service. Passengers not making a connection in the corridor may check two additional bags for $25 each, for a total of four items. Previously, Sleeper and Prestige passengers could check up to three additional bags for $40 each.
The new policy appears to allow passengers making a connection between a train with checked baggage service and a corridor train to carry the two large suitcases that will be checked in on the long-distance train on the corridor portion of their journey.
Unfortunately, the new policy does not allow bicycles to be carried in corridor trains, yet. Not being able to take bicycles on train has been a sore point since the last baggage cars were withdrawn from the corridor in 2020. The ability to add a bicycle to a corridor fare is expected to be added back into the new reservation system once more of the new Venture trains enter service so bicycle spaces are regularly available.
The “medium” size for carry-on luggage is not entirely new. This was also VIA Rail’s recommended size for carry-on bags prior to a significant reduction in baggage allowances in 2012, when federal budget cuts also caused most stations to lose ticket office staff and checked baggage service. The weight limit for carry-ons was also cut to 40 lbs in 2012, with a $20 surcharge for heavier bags, before being changed back to 50 lbs for Economy and Economy Plus fares in 2014, and for Escape fares in 2017.
While trains are not as subject to space constraints as airliners, and many European railways allow passengers to bring as much as they can carry, ensuring that baggage does not crowd the aisles and can be stowed securely is important to passenger safety, and for staff. Changes to the checked baggage policy in 2012 resulted in a 76% reduction in employee injuries related to baggage handling, according to VIA Rail’s 2013 annual report.