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VIA considering Northshore of Lake Superior


VIA Rail  Thunder Bay
File Photo: The Canadian at CP Rail Station on Syndicate Ave Thunder Bay.

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO, ---  March 23, 2015 ---  LSN---  VIA is looking to review it's rail corridor between Toronto and Winnipeg.

VIA suspended Canadian service between Winnipeg and Toronto, March 11, citing the impossibility of maintaining schedules as CN dealt with the oil train mishaps near Gogama. It is imperative now to simply get the train running again before the summer tourism season, according to CP Rail.

David Thomas, Contributing Editor, writes in the March 20th edition of Railway Age, one option is to shift to CP trackage between Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Sudbury, Ontario, something Via Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano hinted at last November during an interview with Railway Age. The motive, he said then, would be to provide passengers with a more scenic route closer to the Great Lakes, while at the same time serving more communities.

After months of late arrivals due to track congestion on CN’s northern Ontario main line, compounded by slow orders arising from CN’s efforts to recover from two tar sands oil train explosions, Via Rail is examining an alternative routing for the Canadian, the continent’s last classic streamliner, originally Canadian Pacific’s premier luxury passenger train.

A contract would have to be negotiated with CP and VIA’s engineers would need to be qualified on CP track and operations, something that could take up to two months. Via will consider next week whether it can restore northern Ontario service over CN tracks, either indefinitely or pending a move to CP.

Bruce Hyer,  Green Train Armstrong
File Photo: July 19, 2014  ----  Bruce Hyer, MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North and deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada  boards the National Green TrainTrain in Armstrong. Ontario, north of Thunder Bay, on the CN mainline.

Bruce Hyer, MP,  Thunder Bay Superior North, Green Party of Canada Deputy Leader, said, after I was elected in October of 2008, I dove into work on the file, and it has been a long slow project. Many decades of neglect and underfunding of VIA began under the Trudeau Liberals in the 1970’s, followed by the elimination of the run through Thunder Bay under Mulroney.

On  May 30, 2013 in Toronto and the next day in Thunder Bay, I released a report on VIA rail co-authored by myself and rail consultant Greg Gormick. (It is available as a PDF by emailing me at It was called A WEDDING BAND OF CONFEDERATION: RESTORING RAIL PASSENGER SERVICE TO ONTARIO’S NORTH SHORE AND ACROSS CANADA.
I am currently working on a second report on how to restore VIA rail, which will be released this spring. Basically it will discuss the obstacles and solutions to those obstacles on; how to rebuild and maintain passenger rail across Canada, especially The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver; how to ensure passenger rail service both on the North Shore from Pic River and Marathon through Schreiber and Thunder Bay and on to Winnipeg; while also maintaining service through Longlac on to Sioux Lookout and Winnipeg. The report will cover 5 key aspects of VIA’s challenges; Routes, aging infrastructure, frequency of service, VIA management issues, and necessary supportive legislation like that enjoyed in the USA by Amtrak.

Just as we invest heavily in highways and bridges, every other developed country in the world is investing in expanded and improved rail service… but not Canada. For instance, there is a USA Amtrak passenger train called The Empire Builder that runs daily between Chicago and Seattle, over routes even less populated than along our route from Thunder Bay to Vancouver. Ironically, it was created by Canadian James J. Hill, and uses double-decker modern rail cars from Bombardier!

Last fall, I met with Via Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who indicated to me that he was personally in favour of restoring service through Thunder Bay. Later in November during an interview with Railway Age magazine, he reiterated that intention.

However, that will not happen soon, despite the rumours. It is true that mile long oil trains and inadequate maintanence have severely damaged the CN main line (e.g. like near Gogama), reducing track speeds to 30 mph or less. However, switching even briefly to CP lines has two obstacles: resistance by CP Rail and the need to re-train (pun intended) the VIA crews to run over the CP route, which would take months.

The good news is that VIA's CEO is paying attention to this, but the greater problem presently is worrisome loss of service from Toronto to Winnipeg until April or longer.

As a carbon efficient means of travel, high-functioning rail service is an important aspect of a future sustainable economy. My soon-to-be-introduced Carbon Free & Dividend legislation to price CO2 will provide incentives and possible funds that favour forms of transportation that are low carbon… Like rail!

Many decades of neglect and mismanagement will not be reversed overnight, but the sooner we start, the sooner we will begin to catch up with Europe, Japan, China, and the USA. I will not give up on working to restore and improve VIA rail across Canada, including service on both lines in Northern Ontario.

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