As a Canadian Crown corporation, VIA Rail proudly serves the public in both official languages. But being truly bilingual also means working in both languages internally, and providing a space in which employees feel free to communicate in the language of their choice. It is a responsibility that we take seriously, within our corporation and without. Every passenger, employee, partner or supplier we communicate with, we offer to do so in either English or French.
Every year, Canadian Crown corporations submit their Annual Review of Official Languages to the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and to Heritage Canada. This year, we received some favourable feedback from the Government for our work. Though we are not usually ones to “toot our own horn”, I am making a special exception this year, to express my sincere gratitude to all employees who make the effort to support VIA Rail’s bilingual environment every day, on and off the train.
The Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser has these nice words to say about VIA Rail:
“[Translation] VIA Rail, a transportation company whose headquarters […] are in Montréal, manages, year after year, to achieve exemplary performance. In its newsletter, VIA Rail [...] is known for the tradition and culture of their organization (with respect to the importance of linguistic duality): we see a leadership that produces results.”
“Several federal institutions were still struggling with designing measures to promote both official languages across the country [...]. Institutions need to be proactive and direct their promotional efforts toward the general public to raise awareness about the importance of linguistic duality in Canadian society as a whole. Some institutions did implement measures of a broader scope, such as [...] VIA Rail Canada’s On Board Entertainment initiative.”
Only two institutions’ activities received the grade of “exemplary”, and VIA Rail was one of them.
Federal Crown corporations are expected to promote both official languages. The fact that we do it well is because we believe in its importance, and in the benefits of living in a country where diversity is respected, promoted and celebrated. Congratulations to all VIA Rail employees, for this well-earned recognition.
Last week, I delivered my first public address as President and CEO of VIA Rail at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal. It was very exciting to have the opportunity to address this business crowd on behalf of everyone at VIA Rail. I discussed the many reasons to take the train. I also discussed the future of passenger rail in Canada.
As Canada’s national passenger rail service, our mandate is to provide safe, cost-effective and environmentally responsible train service from coast to coast, in both official languages. Though we own, operate and service equipment (including locomotives, train cars and stations) we are, first and foremost, a service company. Without our clients we would not exist, and it is for our clients that we strive to become the best inter-city travel option in Canada.
Though there are many environmental, economic and social advantages to taking the train, in order to be successful we must consider and deliver what our clients want, and as their needs evolve, so must VIA Rail. Based on the feedback from over 300 passengers I met while taking the train since my appointment in May, client surveys and input from the employee listening tour, our customers’ needs can be summed up in the following three points:
- Reliability: safe and punctual trains
- Frequency: the number of departures offered
- Travel time: best time to destination that our equipment can provide
Regarding reliability, our trains remain one of the safest modes of transportation in North America. As for on time performance (punctuality), frequencies and travel time, we have been working to maintain and improve our offerings in these areas. In order to do so, we must consider the conditions under which we operate. The following is a very brief history of passenger rail to explain our circumstances: In 1885, construction of the national railway was completed. Since that time, freight and passenger rail have shared the same tracks. In 1977, VIA Rail was founded to serve passengers, while the other train companies (CN, CP and others) focused on freight. To this day we continue to share the same rails. Meanwhile, regional passenger train services have been established and have grown significantly and the freight train business has also grown in popularity. That’s a good thing for the Canadian economy. But, all that growth on a shared rail network is leading to significant congestion which over time will negatively impact the future of passenger rail in Canada.
There are, and will continue to be in the near future, too many trains sharing the same railway infrastructures. To accommodate the growth in train traffic (freight and passenger), the two types of trains need to operate on their own dedicated tracks.
Operating on dedicated tracks, VIA Rail’s trains could run at full potential, which is 160km / hr. Under current circumstances, our average speed is rarely greater than 100km/hr. At top speed and with dedicated tracks our on time performance would soar, while our travel time would decrease significantly. We could travel between Montreal – Toronto in about 3 and a half hours and between Montreal – Ottawa in about an hour.
Dedicated tracks would certainly require significant investment. Currently, our funding comes 47% from travellers (through ticket sales) and 53% subsidies of the Government of Canada. However, to meet our needs we have to think bigger and include more diverse funding partners such as, possibly: provinces and municipalities and most importantly capital markets.
We have a vision for the future of passenger rail and for the future of travel in Canada itself. Train travel is one of the “greenest” modes of transport, especially compared to taking a car. Our carbon footprint is impressively low, and only accounts for 0.02% of all greenhouse gas emissions per year in all of Canada in the transport industry. We have a responsibility as a Crown corporation to serve our greater community, our country.
VIA Rail’s success can mean many things:
Reducing the growth of the subsidy from the Government of Canada (and thereby respecting taxpayers’ ability to pay)
Improving the mobility of Canadians and the economic growth that mobility brings
Taking care of our environment by replacing cars with trains and further reducing overall GHG emissions
As we work toward these goals, we welcome input from the public. We want to cooperate with you, to get you on our trains and keep you coming back. 71% of our passengers are repeat customers. Please connect with us through Facebook or Twitter at either @Via_Rail or with me personally at @VIARailPrez.
This week VIA Rail has been making its mark on the world stage. On September 22, at the 2014 Canadian Rail Summit, Marc Beaulieu, Regional General Manager, East and Chief of Transportation, and Denis Pinsonneault, Chief Customer Experience & Operating Officer spoke about our safety management system as well as some new technology being introduced at VIA Rail to better communicate train status with our passengers. Meanwhile, as part of the United Nations’ Climate Summit 2014, I participated in a conference about sustainable travel organized by the International Union of Railways (UIC). Although VIA Rail represented the smallest passenger rail company on the panel, our achievements were recognized for their practical relevance and real impacts.
On the global market, VIA Rail plays a small, but important, role. We are Canada’s only national passenger rail carrier, a Crown corporation, and a proud provider of environmentally-friendly travel. Our designation as a “green travel” choice is not simply a logo on our trains, it’s a badge of honour we work at earning every day in everything we do.
Over the past few years, thanks to the $1 billion investment by the Government of Canada, we have overhauled our locomotives and re-organized our fleet to improve efficiency. We are deploying in-house built and patented technology to assist our locomotive engineers in managing our fuel consumption. We have met or exceeded the rail industry, the Canadian and the global commitments to GHG emission reductions ahead of schedule. In real terms, we have reduced our overall fuel consumption (and consequently our GHG emissions) by 20% since 2009… and we continue to look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
However, sustainability is not defined by reducing one’s carbon footprint. True sustainable mobility must be considered a primary source of economic and social development for our communities and our country. Providing smarter ways to move people and making rail travel accessible and affordable will get more people to leave their cars at home and take the train. In themselves, they will provide prosperity and the resulting reduction of GHG emissions will be their positive by-product.
Our goal at VIA Rail is to make the train your best travel option; by listening to our customers and improving our service, by re-evaluating and improving our train schedules and by linking to other transport companies to create a seamless travel experience. Facilitating sustainable mobility is about getting people to use public transport.
As the Mayor of Bogota famously said:
“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”
All of us at VIA Rail and we trust, our regular passengers, share this view.
Over the past couple of weeks VIA Rail has published its second quarter financial report as well as the results following the Labour Day long weekend. In both cases, we are seeing positive trends: increased revenues, and over the long weekend, increased ridership as well.
My President’s message in the second quarter report stated, “A lot of work needs to be done in order to create a better future for VIA Rail […] Fortunately, the financial and commercial performance improvements that started in the second quarter continued in July and August.” And now, I’m happy to report, that trend has continued into September as well.
This year’s Labour Day long weekend saw an incredible 6% increase in ridership compared to that of 2013. In concrete terms, this increase represents almost 4,000 people! In 2014, 4,000 more people decided to travel, to visit friends or family, or to go on an adventure by train. 4,000 more people choose to travel with VIA Rail, so that they could put their feet up and enjoy the weekend from the moment they got onboard, without the hassle of jammed highways. 4,000 more people on our trains also meant up to 4,000 fewer cars on the road. That’s very good news for Canadians, and promising news for VIA Rail.
But this was no fluke… we have been working very hard to improve our services from top to bottom. We began by placing the emphasis on you, our clients, by first and foremost listening to your comments and suggestions and catering to your needs. Planning for the delivery of good service over this Labour Day weekend was a perfect example. Leading up to the holiday, our teams worked on maximizing this high-traffic period. They made sure that we had the right number of cars on the right routes at the best times to meet the increased demand. This planning clearly worked, as the weekend’s results demonstrate.
This kind of preparation and service is what you can expect from VIA Rail; faster, more frequent trips, a safe and affordable ride, excellent service and high-quality onboard food offerings – not to mention the free Wi-Fi to keep you connected. Taking the train has quite simply become a better option than driving your car.
If you haven’t tried taking the train yet, we challenge you join the extra 6% of people who placed their confidence in us this September: hop onboard, leave your car behind, and see what you’ve been missing.
This week, following the quarterly meeting of VIA Rail’s Board of Directors, my colleague and friend Mr. Paul G. Smith announced his forthcoming departure from the Board.
His positive impact on the Crown corporation began in 2007 when he was asked to become a director. During that time VIA Rail benefitted not only from his professional experience and business acumen, but also from his warm character, openness and passion for the industry. Enthusiasm for VIA Rail’s development and success led him to be appointed the Chairman of the Board in 2010.
Over the 8 years of his dedicated service, VIA Rail modernized and evolved almost every aspect of its operations. In 2007, the same year he joined the team, the Government of Canada began its Capital Investment Program which saw over $1 billion invested in VIA Rail to improve its trains, stations, technology and infrastructure. Mr. Smith also worked to strengthen our relationship with stakeholders in Ottawa as well as with the communities we serve across our Canadian network. In many ways, we are a better company now then we were when Mr. Smith began his mandate.
Over this time, other major improvements were made, including the Board of Directors’ Governance reform, for which new Governance Policies were created. As well, at the time of his departure, the Board will be equally represented by men and women, with a 50/50 split across its 10 members.
Finally, under Mr. Smith’s leadership, many initiatives were implemented to contain and minimize the increase of the Corporation’s operating costs. This was achieved thanks to the work done to streamline the company’s operations and make it more efficient, with an emphasis on responsible economic management. Mr. Smith always took to heart that our biggest “shareholder” was the Canadian taxpayer.
From everyone at VIA Rail, we are truly grateful for the years Paul G. Smith spent with us, serving the Canadian people. We wish him future success with whatever great adventure awaits him next, and leave him with an open-ended invitation: there will always be a seat for you on our trains, Mr. Smith!