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Via Rail Boss say NO to High Speed Rail

Windsor Star - The Windsor market will gain two runs as part of a strategy by Via Rail Canada to increase ridership.

Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, the president and CEO of Via Rail, announced the return of a 5:30 p.m. weekday train from Toronto to Windsor and an extra run between Windsor and London during a Wednesday luncheon hosted by the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re working hard to increase ridership at Via Rail,” Desjardins-Siciliano told about 50 people at the Caboto Club. “We believe we’re poised for growth.”

He said the extra service should be in place late this year or by early 2016. There is also a plan to add an extra service between Sarnia and London.

The Crown corporation is trying to reverse an early trend in 2015 when ridership throughout Southwestern Ontario was down 7.7 per cent through the first quarter of the year.

A long-term strategy to boost business calls for a dedicated track through the Windsor to Quebec City corridor as a means to increase ridership, improve reliability, frequency and track time along the most densely populated and heavily industrialized stretch of Canada.


As far as Desjardins-Siciliano is concerned, high-speed rail service is not the answer.

“High speed is not a project at Via anywhere on the network,” he told a crowd of about 50 people at the Caboto Club. “A dedicated corridor where we can run at the current 100 miles an hour — that option is much cheaper at a third of the price and it serves more people.”

He maintains that sharing infrastructure with slow-moving freight trains has hurt Via’s on-time performance which has translated into lost ridership.

In 2014, Via served 3.8 million passengers, down from the 4.2 million who rode the rails in 2010.

His presentation included a graphic comparing the cost of a dedicated track corridor at 2.9 billion to a high-speed corridor at 9.4 billion.

Desjardins-Siciliano said research shows half of Via’s passengers “go to or come from points in between” along the corridor.

“Going at 300 kilometres an hour (for shorter trips) does not warrant the investment,” he said.
He pointed out that Via Rail lost $320 million in 2014 alone.

“That’s why we’ve got to be very responsible in how we lose your money by investing it wisely,” he said.

The Ontario government announced last year its intention to have high-speed rail available between London and Toronto within 10 years. In December, the Ministry of Transportation approved the start of an environmental assessment on the best route.

Desjardins-Siciliano called the government’s plan “a great project. We’ll have to wait and see what is the plan and what is the route specifically for this region to make sure we don’t duplicate efforts and we compliment each other.”

The news was disappointing to MPP Windsor-Tecumseh Percy Hatfield, who attended the luncheon.

“I’ve been hoping for high-speed rail for years,” said Hatfield who takes the train to Toronto every Sunday evening and returns to Windsor on Thursdays.

“Now he’s saying a dedicated set of tracks first and let someone else take care of high-speed rail. Maybe what he’s proposing is the easier thing but I don’t know if it’s the best thing to do. High-speed rail is all over Europe.”

Canada is the only G7 country that does not have high-speed rail.

Desjardins-Siciliano said studies show only 10 per cent of train passengers in Europe use high-speed rail while 90 per cent use conventional speed networks.

“I was expecting more,” Hatfield said. “But I guess we’ll take what we can get.”


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