December 30th 2009
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After a bumpy run through 2009 as the global
economic slowdown cut into the demand for freight movement, Canada's
freight and passenger railways are looking forward, with hope, to
better results in 2010.
Cliff Mackay, President and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada
said: "From all signs, the decline in freight rail traffic hit
bottom during this summer and has begun to rebound. It may take a
couple of years for the business to rebuild to the peaks of the
For VIA Rail and the country's commuter rail operators, 2009 brought
needed financial injections from government that will help set them
on the right track to meet the expectations of their growing number
of customers. Inter-city, commuter and tourist traffic totaled 72.3
million passengers in 2008, and is still growing."
The federal government allocated about $900 million to VIA Rail
Canada alone for rejuvenating locomotives and cars, building new
stations and adding tracks at key points in inter-city service
It will take VIA a couple of years to complete all its renewal
projects. When they're done, the company says it will be in top
shape and ready to run more frequent trains in the busy
Ontario-Quebec corridor and offer better accommodations on its
eastern and western transcontinental services.
The federal and provincial governments announced major financial
support for commuter rail projects such as a major renovation of
Union Station in downtown Toronto so it can better connect VIA, GO
Transit and Toronto Transit Commission passenger services. The
station's track network and Union Station in Toronto are being
rebuilt to handle additional passengers.
The New Year may finally bring some clarity to the hottest public
transportation issue -- the prospects for high speed passenger
trains linking Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto and Windsor. A $3
million technical examination of 20 years worth of high speed
studies will report to the federal, Ontario and Quebec governments
by the Spring. That should set the stage for some decisions later in
The freight carriers saw their traffic tumble by upwards of 25 per
cent during the first half of 2009 as the recession cut into the
overseas demand for coal, sulphur and other export commodities as
well as the movement of containerized goods in and out of Canada.
Signs of improvement could be seen in the number of locomotives and
freight cars brought out of storage toward the end of 2009 to handle
an up-tick in business. Strong demand for Canadian grain and
specialty crops was one of the bright lights for the carriers during
2009. Promising new business for the railways includes ethanol and
wood pellets being used in electricity-generating plants.
One unknown for the rail industry is what commitments Canada will
make toward an international agreement on cutting carbon emissions.
Many observers think the industry's favorable environmental
footprint, such as an agreement with government to cut locomotive
emissions and its ability to take people and freight off congested
highways, positions it to gain traffic during an economic rebound.
The railways should also get a boost when the federal government's
infrastructure expansion and economic stimulus programs hit full
steam during 2010. They could bring more business to the railways
hauling materials for construction projects across the country.
Canada's 53 railways transport 75 per cent of freight traffic in
Canada and 72.3 million passengers, yet generate only three per cent
of greenhouse gas emissions. They operate an average of 775 trains a
day in Canada, and 100 trains cross the border between Canada and
the United States each day.