|VIA Rail train arrives at Union Station in Toronto.
Poor infrastructure blamed for late trains
Published: October 20, 2007
Source: Canadian Press
OTTAWA -- If your Via Rail train rolled
into the station late this summer, you weren't alone.
Internal reports from the Crown corporation show that crumbling
infrastructure has conspired against train schedules across Canada this
year, delivering passengers late in almost one of every four trips.
The situation deteriorated over the late spring and summer, partly
because Via's geriatric F-40 locomotives keep breaking down.
"Via equipment failure caused delay minutes (to) increase by
approximately 60 per cent from 2006 to 2007,'' says the September
report, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information
Nationally, about 23 per cent of Canada's passenger trains ran late in
the May-to-July tourist period, well over Via Rail's target of 10 per
The late-train problem has gotten worse in every part of the country,
including the heavily travelled corridor between Quebec City and
Windsor, with four of every five Via Rail customers.
For the eastern service between Montreal and Halifax, trains were late
more than 60 per cent of the time in July, largely because of "major
And for the western service between Toronto and Vancouver, on-time
performance was abysmal as well.
"The average West delay severity remains extremely poor,'' says the
report, prepared for a recent meeting of the board of directors.
"Western Services trains arrived in Vancouver and Toronto in May, June
and July 2007 an average of two hours and 42 minutes late, which
represents a sizable increase over the average delay a year ago.''
But the worst service in the country appears to be along the stretch
between Winnipeg and the Hudson Bay port of Churchill, Man.
In July, 10 of the 26 Via trains scheduled along the route never arrived
at all. Those that did make it to their destination were four hours late
Via Rail, which receives an annual federal subsidy of $170 million for
its 4.1 million passengers, is not always responsible for train delays.
The agency largely operates on track owned by other railways, such as CN
Rail, and its passenger trains must sometimes stand down to let freight
Freight-train derailments, track-improvement work and speed restrictions
along tracks that are prone to buckling in summer heat have all caused
disruptions in the schedule.
The report notes in particular that Via Rail has a "worsening
relationship'' with the Hudson Bay Railway or HBR, a subsidiary of
Denver-based Omnitrax, which owns the track between The Pas and
Churchill. Closures because of defects in the tracks, and derailments of
HBR freight trains, help account for many of the late and non-arrivals.
About 4,700 passengers were also hit by delays last summer caused by
native protesters blocking rail lines in Ontario.
But Via Rail's own F-40 locomotives -- 20-year-old workhorses of the
system -- are responsible for many of the delays. The corporation's 54
F-40s, representing more than 70 per cent of the fleet, are at the end
of their useful life.
"Regular overhauls and scheduled maintenance no longer ensure
reliability nor keep maintenance costs under control,'' says an internal
A spokesman acknowledged the F-40s have been a continuing headache.
"Despite concerted efforts to control those factors for which Via has
direct responsibility, the reliability of Via's locomotive fleet ... has
increasingly been a significant cause of delays,'' said Malcolm Andrews
from company headquarters in Montreal.
Earlier this month, the federal government announced $516 million in
capital funding over the next five years, much of which will go to
rebuild the F-40s from the ground up, giving them 15 to 20 more years'
of service. Tracks and other infrastructure will also be improved.
Quebec and Manitoba have also announced plans to improve rail
infrastructure in their provinces, which will help improve on-time
performance, Andrews said.