The budget axe has fallen at VIA Rail with some 200 unionized employees and the frequency of rail service through Melville part of the collateral damage.
The reductions in service – “aligning our services with customer needs and consolidating our resources where there is a demand,” according to VIA in an announcement last Wednesday – affect passenger service in Melville.
The transcontinental “Canadian” which currently runs three times a week between Toronto and Vancouver will be reduced to two times per week from the current three during the off-season running from October to April, VIA says, with service during the remainder of the year remaining at three times weekly. The reductions have played out just as Ron Haskell, president of Transport Action Prairie (TAP), warned last month after rumors began circulating of possible steps VIA would take in light of the federal government cutting $20 million from VIA’S budget.
Haskell of Melville was unavailable for comments following the VIA announcement but in an earlier interview, he says it’ll be up to the public to voice its displeasure to politicians if continuing service reductions are to be avoided.
“It’s all really going to depend on public support. Western Canada has borne the brunt of passenger rail cutbacks for several decades now and (governments) seem to be continuing that trend,” Haskell, a Melville resident, explains.
According to VIA Rail, the company expects to cut 200 unionized jobs which makes up about nine per cent of its workforce.
Besides reducing “Canadian” transcontinental runs between Toronto and Vancouver during the off-season, VIA will reduce frequency on other routes including “The Ocean” which runs from Montreal to Halifax.
“The Ocean” will be cut to three round trips a week in the off-season from October from its current six trips.
However, and some routes in the busy Montreal-Toronto corridor will be increased, according to VIA.
“We are aligning our services with customer needs and consolidating our resources where there is a demand,” VIA president and CEO Marc Laliberte says.
The new operating regime follows the federal government’s budget which reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $6.5 million this year, $15.1 million in 2013-14 and $19.6 million in 2014-15.
Haskell says passenger rail service makes no sense in light of statistics which he says show VIA ridership appearing to increase. Other countries are investing more in rail passenger service, such as the United States which is continually upgrading its Amtrak network, Haskell points out.
Interestingly enough, Haskell says, VIA ridership appears to be increasing; VIA reported 109,000 passengers rode the rails last year, an increase of 3,000 from the 2010 numbers.
There is another important reason for VIA service to be improved and not reduced, Haskell suggests.
“It’s an environmentally friendly service and something that’s becoming more and more important as we deal with issues of global warning and other environmental issues.”