August 8, 2012

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

I am concerned about the deterioration of passenger rail service in Canada. Other G20 countries around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail including the United States. Passenger rail is the way of the future, as it is efficient, economical, and a safe way to move people. Marc Laliberté, President and Chief Executive Officer of VIA Rail to the Montreal Board of Trade on May 1. “To optimize transportation modes in the country, from our standpoint, the train is the best option for trips between 160 and 800 kilometers. Why? Besides being affordable cost-wise, travel times are reasonable...” Yet, across Canada there are many major urban centre pairs within this distance that have no passenger trains at all.

The recent Government of Canada drastic budget cuts to VIA Rail has forced the company to cut service in many parts of the country including Southwestern Ontario. In the Maritimes, the government mandated budget cuts will reduce the train service from six to only three days a week. As it is, this lone train serves only two (Halifax and Moncton) of the five major population centres in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

According to VIA Rail, the ridership of this train (Ocean) has declined 50% in the last 15 years. Not surprising considering the millions of dollars that governments have spent on highways and airports with no government investment in the rail passenger infrastructure at all. In fact, according to the numbers in the VIA Rail 2011 Annual Report, while the total passengers carried in the Quebec City to Windsor corridor decreased by 2,000 from 2010 to 2011, the total passengers carried on the Montreal to Halifax train actually increased by 7,000 to 134,000. With a total of 12 trains per week that comes out to an average of 215 passengers on each train.

Mr Prime Minister what is your government’s long term plans for passenger train service in the Maritimes? We already know that VIA Rail is not interested in improving service there. VIA does no marketing in the region and they are unable to coordinate their schedules with the bus companies. A few weeks ago I was planning a trip to a funeral of a friend in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. However, the bus back from Port Hawkesbury is due to arrive in Truro 12 minutes AFTER the train is scheduled to leave for Montreal! Destaffing stations and cutting this train service by 50% even in the busy Christmas and summer seasons will result in declining ridership and will surely set this train up as a prime target for your government’s planned future budget cuts.

In the United States, governments are expanding and starting up intercity passenger rail corridors. From Maine where the Downeaster from Boston to Portland is being extended to Freeport and Brunswick. In Florida, Florida East Coast Industries are planning on starting passenger rail service on their own tracks. Amtrak is buying new cars and locomotives, both for fleet renewal and expansion. Mr Prime Minister, when will the Government of Canada step up to the 21st century and invest in intercity passenger rail for all Canadians?

Yours sincerely,
Barry Brake

The Honourable Denis Lebel, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Olivia Chow, Official Opposition Transport Critic
Marc Garneau, MP Westmount--Ville-Marie
Marc Laliberté, President and Chief Executive Officer, VIA Rail Canada
Transport Action Canada
The Gaspé Spec