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All aboard? As VIA Rail turns 40, questions about its future remain

Yahoo Canada Finance - This month marks 40 years since the federal government under former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau spun passenger rail services out from under the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways to the newly minted banner VIA Rail.

At least partially inspired by the 1971 creation of Amtrak to the south, the Liberal government had promised to create its own iteration during the 1974 election campaign. Federal Transport Minister Otto Lang announced the crown corporation in February 1977 and by April 1978, VIA Rail took over the Quebec City to Windsor corridor that to this day still represents the highest ridership of its train lines.


  1. Good, even best financial report over 5 years. Fine, and then the comment on how much money the Fedgov, gives to help VIA. Meanwhile , do we know how much money any form of governement gives to roads and airports, to "help". Me thinks we need much better and realistic accounting to confront all of these players and have a clear view of the "real" picture. Even the " security" monies must be taken into account, don't U think ?

    1. Airports are money makers. The rents that airports bring in from just the major airports is enough to pay for the entire National Airport System and still generate over a billion in profit annually.

      Why do you think flying is so expensive in Canada or why the government refuses to transfer airport lands to the local airport authorities?

      It's also why they drag their feet in rail. Why would they want to subsidize rail to compete with very profitable air travel (from their perspective)? Nobody realises that the high price of travel in the second largest country on Earth really damages our economic prospects.

    2. Other modes of transportation require far more extensive subsidies from the taxpayer than
      passenger rail does, while both passenger & freight rail are used a cash cow by government.

      And all while the Government of Canada has effectively reduced Via Rail’s inflation-adjusted funding per Canadian by 90 percent since 1981:

      Many airports are still owned by Transport Canada

      Government spending on air transport is 891 million dollars/year, according to page 7 of the following Council of Ministers responsible for

      Transportation and Highway Safety report:

      In addition, provincial airfare reduction programs have taxpayers shelling out subsidies of up to $1,500 per passenger:

      And the Feds have reduced Canadian airport rents by 60%:

      In addition, Toronto Pearson pays more than 70% less than market value assessment would mandate according to the following article:

      And the Niagara District airport is subsidized by its three surrounding municipalities:

      All while aircraft under 8,800 lbs at that airport are exempt from Landing Fees:

      Meanwhile, Government subsidies to roads have spiraled out of control from $17 billion in 2008 ( to $29 billion in 2011 (, with heavy vehicles like buses & trucks responsible for the majority of pavement damage:

      By contrast Passenger rail’s operating subsidies are only $240 million/yr – LESS THAN 1% OF WHAT ROADS RECEIVE! (page 7 of the following Council of Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety report:

      Yet for less than 1% of the subsidies given to roads, VIA Rail carries over 4 million passengers/yr – the equivalent of 12% of the population of Canada! (page 24 of the following Council of Ministers responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety report:

      All while VIA Rail must pay exorbitant property taxes at its 450 stations:

      Meanwhile municipal properties like the St. Catharines bus terminal are property tax exempt:

      Furthermore, unlike flights, trains have the ability to serve multiple cities on one route.

      A flight from Chicago to LA, for example only serves the two endpoint cities. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, by contrast serves 31 intermediate stops, or 528 city pairs, on one route, vastly improving public mobility, according to page 5 of the following report from the National Association of Railroad Passengers:

      And VIA's Toronto-Vancouver Canadian produces similar mobility benefits.

      In the U.S. Federal law (49 U.S.C. § 24301) generally exempts Amtrak from property taxes, no wonder passenger rail is thriving there while here
      in Canada Federal government strangles it to death while giving air & highway transport a blank cheque.

    3. The recommendation on page 181 of the report below to eliminate funding for the Toronto-Vancouver rail service is DISCRIMINATORY towards persons with disabilities, and would cause particular harm to those who, for medical reasons, are unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat:

      These people are protected by law under The Canadian Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities:

      As the Transport Action Canada post below states: “The recommendation to cut funding to the Canadian ignores the fact that the Canadian’s Capreol-Winnipeg run of 1498 km is a mandated remote essential service“. The recommendation to cut funding would leave passengers stranded in many communities along the line with no reasonable public transportation alternatives.

      Some people have medical conditions making flying, or sitting in a cramped bus seat for days, potentially dangerous. Any cessation of VIA service west of Toronto would adversely affect the mobility of persons who – for medical conditions – are unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat.

      The train by contrast offers spacious accommodations – even in economy class with roomy seats with leg rests & a generous recline, not to mention the accessible rooms available on VIA’s Canadian.

      Also the concerns about lower oxygen levels in a plane which can affect persons with heart or lung disease, such as flying with uncontrolled hypertension which could prove fatal, as well as the sitting in one spot for hours which can affect persons with arthritis or more serious conditions like deep vein thrombosis, do not apply to rail travelers at ground level with the room to walk around while onboard:

      Furthermore, long distance trains provide spacious coach & sleeping accommodations, while the buses’ lack thereof can leave long distance bus travelers prone to sleep deprivation, which can lead to a higher risk of health problems. For people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke:

      In addition, having to sit for days in a bus seat can be painful and have negative effects on persons with arthritis:

      Maintaining funding for VIA’s Toronto-Vancouver train which serves over 30 intermediate stops, or over 500 city-pair combinations, would ensure that disabled persons unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat can continue to enjoy the same mobility benefits enjoyed by all other Canadians. These people have as much right to public transportation as anyone else, including airline & bus passengers who benefit from government subsidies to roads & air transport which are far in excess of the meager funding given to passenger rail (page 7&8 of following report):


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