March 3, 2015

Exchange of letters with Lisa Raitt

I just received a reply from Lisa Raitt the federal Minister of Transport concerning a letter I wrote on February 4, 2014 about saving the Newcastle Sub for the Ocean. In appreciation for the reply, I decided to write her another.
Here's that letter I wrote to all cabinet ministers

received Wednesday, February 25, 2015 11:56 AM

Mr. Barry Brake

Dear Mr. Brake:

Thank you for your correspondence regarding VIA Rail and Canadian National (CN) passenger rail services in eastern Canada. Please accept my apology for the delay in replying.

As you may be aware, VIA and CN have reached an agreement under which VIA will provide $10.2 million for the rehabilitation of CN’s Nelson Junction‑Nepisiguit Junction line. Additionally, CN has halted the discontinuance process on this line that it had earlier initiated. This agreement allows VIA to continue its Ocean passenger rail service between Montreal and Halifax.

The Government of Canada provides VIA Rail with an operating subsidy, which in fiscal year 2013–14 amounted to $305 million. This significant annual subsidy from Canadian taxpayers enables VIA to operate its network of services throughout the country. In addition, the Government has announced more than $1 billion in capital funding for VIA over the past seven years. This capital funding has been used to rebuild aging equipment, refurbish stations, upgrade infrastructure, improve accessibility and support critical information technology projects.

Given that VIA is a Crown corporation that operates at arm’s length from the Government, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your letter to Mr. Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and Chief Executive Officer of VIA, for his consideration.

Again, thank you for writing and sharing your views on passenger rail.


The Honourable Lisa Raitt, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Transport

c.c. The Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Bruce Hyer, M.P.
Mr. Yvon Godin, M.P.
Mr. Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

March 3, 2015

Honourable Lisa Raitt

Minister of Transport

Dear Minister,

Thank you for replying to my letter of February 4, 2014, it is much appreciated. Thank you also for providing the $10.2 million to ensure the survival of this vital passenger rail link in the Maritimes. VIA reduced the frequency of the Ocean by half in 2012 without any public consultation. As expected, the ridership decreased by 43 percent with very little reduction in cost. The only reason for this loss of service was that the government was trying to balance its books. Of the inadequate amount ($140 million a year for 7 years) that the government did invest in VIA, a large part ended up being a subsidy to CN for its infrastructure between Montreal and Toronto. VIA has no mandate and no direction and a government that has no passenger transportation policy at all.

Obviously, the government is not aware of the benefits of intercity passenger rail, of which there are many. One only has to look to Amtrak, which saw increases in ridership in 10 of the last 11 years, to see how they do it. Operating with modern equipment and with a long term fleet renewal plan, Amtrak’s operational subsidy per passenger is less than half of VIA’s. Instead of divesting itself of VIA Rail, the government should come up with a long term plan for its renewal and expansion.

The government line is that VIA operates at arm’s length from the government. If that is true, then they need direction and a mandate to improve service. As you know, VIA Rail is at the whim of Cabinet and it can end all passenger rail service without any input from the people of Canada or from Parliament. If you believe in the future of passenger rail for all Canadians, I call on you to support Philip Toone’s Bill C-640, An Act respecting Via Rail Canada at second reading. Instead of a disappearing passenger rail network, Canadians demand, in fact, need a vibrant Canada wide passenger rail service.

Yours truly,

Barry Brake
Montreal, QC

cc The Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Philip Toone, M.P.
Mr. Yves Desjardins-Siciliano
The Gaspé Spec