Transport Action BC

2012, June 27

The slow death of passenger rail in Canada continues

Transport Action BC calls VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core’

‘Death by a thousand cuts’ continues while hundreds of millions invested in VIA’s renewal

VIA rail fading away slowly.

KAMLOOPS, JUNE 27, 2012 – Matthew Buchanan, president of the public transportation users and advocacy group, Transport Action BC, said that today’s announcement of yet more cuts to Canada’s nationwide rail passenger service is wrong and inexplicable given this federal government’s recent investment of $923 million in a renewal of VIA Rail Canada’s trains, stations and other assets.

“While the rest of the G20 nations invest heavily and wisely in expanding their rail passenger services, Canada’s longstanding policy of cutting VIA continues,” said Buchanan.

“These cuts are wrong to the core and the destructiveness of this latest round will soon become apparent, much to the detriment of the more than four million passengers who use VIA annually.”

In 2009, VIA began receiving $923 million for the largest capital renewal program in its 35-year history.  Transport Action BC applauded that wise decision, especially the leadership role played by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, who are strong supporters of public transportation, in general, and VIA, in particular.  Some of the investments in that capital renewal package are now being undermined by cuts to the very trains they were meant to benefit.

Respected sources, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, have determined that every dollar invested in rail projects yields three to four dollars of economic spin-off, not to mention vast social and environmental benefits.  Furthermore, VIA’s public funding for its national network of passenger trains costs the average taxpayer only $1.60 per month – less than the cost of a large cup of coffee.

“We can only believe today’s shocking announcement is part of the usual Ottawa game,” said Buchanan.  “From the day it was born as a publicly-owned Crown corporation in 1977, VIA has been under attack by high-ranking civil servants at Transport Canada, Treasury Board and Finance.  They have engaged in a 35-year campaign that can only be described as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’  It appears these civil servants have once again misled the elected officials who have championed VIA and convinced them this is the right track to take.  Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The cuts – which are being portrayed by VIA as “the next phase of its modernization project” – will severely and negatively affect the following routes:

  • The Canadian (Toronto-Vancouver) cut from three trains weekly to two from the end of October until April each year;
  • The Ocean (Montreal-Halifax) reduced from six times weekly to three, cutting VIA service to Atlantic Canada in half;
  • Montreal-Ottawa;
  • Toronto-Stratford-London;
  • London-Sarnia;
  • London-Windsor; and
  • Toronto-Niagara Falls.

Deeper cuts will occur next year and in 2014, as VIA’s operating budget is reduced further.

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2012, June 24

VIA to cut The Canadian?

Filed under: Inter-city rail — Tags: , , , , — Rick @ 4:39 pm

VIA Rail Canada  was to announce service cuts  at its May 29, 2012 Annual Public Meeting. The announcement has apparently been postponed to June 27, 2012, after Parliament has adjourned for the summer recess. This is similar to the manner in which VIA Rail service was slashed on previous occasions – do the dirty work when Parliament is not sitting and the media is not focused on day-to-day government actions.

And, once again, the service cuts would disproportionately affect the eastern and western long distance trains.

The 1990 service cuts reduced services in the west from 14 trains per direction per week (daily service over two routes) to three (tri-weekly service on one route). This bare-bones service level is to be further reduced to two during the winter months. VIA’s transcontinental route should offer a minimum of daily service, with additional offerings between major city-pairs. Service should also be available on the southern CPR route from Winnipeg to Vancouver. VIA Rail Canada is not VIA Rail Corridor; it is supposed to serve all Canadians.

Service cuts are not the only way of dealing with operating costs. Other options are:
• Improve network connectivity.
• Partnerships to increase ridership and revenue.
• More efficient operating practices.

Consider the Skeena and Canadian, both of which serve Jasper. The Skeena used to depart Edmonton in the late afternoon, travel overnight through Jasper to Prince George and daytime from Prince George to Prince Rupert. Currently, it runs from Jasper to Prince George daytime, leaving Jasper minutes before the arrival of the train from Toronto and Edmonton. It stays overnight in Prince George and then goes daytime to Prince Rupert. On the return trip, it arrives in Jasper just after the train for Edmonton and Toronto has left. It still takes two train sets, but there are no sleeping cars (passengers are responsible for their Prince George accommodation). VIA treats this as a tourist train and not part of a passenger rail network. How much additional ridership and revenue would be generated if the Skeena and Canadian made connections in Jasper?

Or could VIA increase ridership and revenue on the Skeena, if it worked with local agencies and First Nations to improve transportation options for local communities along its route? The Skeena’s route parallels B.C.’s Highway of 16, the so-called Highway of Tears. A major issue for residents is the inability to travel unless one has automobile access. For those who don’t, hitchhiking is considered a viable option in spite of the danger potential. VIA partnerships with other agencies in the corridor could improve the lives of local residents and VIA’s economic and social bottom-line.

Operationally, VIA could make its well-used Corridor services more effective by using cab control cars as the rear car. Thus, VIA could eliminate the cost and delay required to turn train consists in Montréal, Québec City, Niagara Falls, Sarnia and Windsor. This is common practice on other intercity and commuter rail operations. Turning trains requires additional time, labour and trackage, all of which increase operating costs. Eliminating the practice would reduce VIA’s costs, speed-up train turn-around time and have trains spending more time carrying passengers.

VIA Rail Canada needs to be the Canadian rail passenger network dedicated to serving Canadians efficiently, responsively and cost effectively. The key is firmly establishing VIA as a ‘real’ Crown Corporation with legislated powers, responsibilities and accountability to Parliament. The current ‘non-entity’ is governed by various Orders in Council, micro-managed by Transport Canada and Treasury Board and subject to the vagaries of anti-rail bureaucrats. With a properly legislated VIA, the company could concentrate on building a rail passenger network that integrates with other carriers – local and intercity transit, ferries and remote air services – and serves all Canadians.

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2012, June 8

6-lane Pattullo bridge not in best interests of Metro Vancouver

Filed under: Studies — Tags: , , , , — Matthew @ 8:32 am

Letter that Transport Action BC sent to TransLink this week.

We are writing regarding TransLink’s decision to replace the aging Pattullo Bridge with a wider, 6-lane facility. We do not think that a higher capacity Pattullo Bridge is in the best interests of our region. It meets neither the goals of TransLink’s 2040 vision, nor does it fit into the strategies set out to meet TransLink’s goals. Given the extraordinary cost and risk of this project, the relatively small constituency it serves and the exemplary opportunity in this corridor to create the 2040 mode shift which is so critical to the economic viability and livability of our region, we urge TransLink to rethink its plans for this bridge.

image of the bridge arches

Pattullo Bridge details, photo by Flickr user GS+

When it opened in the 1930’s the Pattullo Bridge was the primary crossing of the Fraser River for vehicle traffic and served as a regional connection between the Burrard Peninsula and the Fraser Valley/USA. With the opening of the Port Mann Bridge and the Hwy 1 corridor in the 1960’s this role was, however, lost. Indeed, the primary role of the Port Mann Bridge was reinforced recently by the Provincial decision to replace it with a massive 10 lane structure and to widen Hwy 1. The Pattullo now serves mostly the local needs of Surrey, New Westminster and Burnaby residents; a connection which is largely duplicated by the SkyBridge and the extensive SkyTrain network which has successfully served the residents of these communities and remains less than full capacity. In short the local needs of the Pattullo Bridge users (typically less than 40,000 users/day – 2 way trips) do not justify the almost 1 billion dollar investment from the regional Transportation authority, particularly when other options are available.

TransLink’s models have predicted significant traffic growth in the Pattullo corridor yet these predictions cannot reflect our region’s changing demographics, the influence of peak oil on travel patterns and choices, and the improved land use patterns throughout the region, all of which reduce the need to travel distances to get to work or amenities. These factors have already resulted in a considerable reduction in travel demand in many cities throughout North America. TransLink has an opportunity to encourage this shift in travel behavior by investing in quality public transit and preferentially supporting energy efficient modes for goods movement. To achieve this mode shift TransLink must invest in the quality transit connections to SkyTrain, particularly in Surrey where lack of transit services continues to fail the expectations of residents. In addition, improved transit connections within Surrey will promote land use changes which will reduce the need to travel throughout the region.

Much of the growth in goods movements envisioned for this corridor can be handled through the rail and river modes using existing or modestly upgraded facilities and investments in better intermodal connections. In the future the role of these modes will be much more important if our ports are to compete on the international stage in a world of high energy costs and unsolvable congestion challenges.

Finally we are concerned that the high cost of a 6 lane Pattullo Bridge could have detrimental impacts on transportation throughout the region if the traffic predictions are not met and TransLink is left with unfunded liabilities similar to the current situation with the Golden Ears Bridge. It seems that TransLink’s traffic models over-estimate the traffic demand when tolls are involved. Additional debt servicing costs could leave other essential elements of the transportation system starved of operating funds.

In conclusion, we ask the board of TransLink to reconsider its determination to build a 6 lane replacement to the Pattullo Bridge. TransLink should be using the strength of its multi-modal mandate to ensure that transportation corridors and facilities are used as efficiently as possible and that all major investments contribute directly and effectively to the important goals outlined in TransLink’s 2040 vision.

2012, June 1

Canada Line Service Issues

Filed under: Announcement, city transit, Rapid Transit, Regional transit — Tags: , , , — Rick @ 4:46 pm

Transport Action BC has ongoing concerns with certain aspects of Canada Line (CL) performance and the seeming unwillingness of TransLink  to hold the concessionaire – InTransitBC  and Protrans BC  – publicly accountable for any shortcomings.

Significant service disruptions occurred on April 16, 2012, inconveniencing customers for most of the service day. The disruptions, centred on Olympic Village Station and affected service on the entire line. Anecdotal evidence from a TABC member indicates sporadic and crowded service. Possible cause(s) of the disruption have not been publicly released and media coverage of the incident was minimal.

Stalled train problems were also experienced at Olympic Village Station on the evenings of April 13 / 14, 2012. Again anecdotally, another TABC member heard that computer control issues requiring staff to monitor trains were, relatively, more frequent, prior to the April 16 incident.

It is unclear if these various incidents are related as there has been no public accounting.

Transport Action BC requested a detailed, open and public post-mortem on the disruptions. The Canada Line’s operating company has passed the two-year “learning curve” allowed in its contract . Performance penalties should be considered as part of TransLink’s response to the disruptions.

Furthermore, evening maintenance has affected Canada Line service many times in the past 18 months. This may be justified, but it seems excessive for a system less than three years old.

We are concerned that the perceived lack of action holding the concessionaire publicly accountable for Canada Line performance jeopardizes TransLink’s credibility and its ability to provide a reliable and attractive service. It also significantly weakens the original rationale to use a P3 model to build and operate the Canada Line.

Transport Action BC sent a letter to the TransLink Board on April 20, 2012 detailing our concerns but a response has not been received. This blog posting is an expanded version of the contents of that letter.

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