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Reflections on Leadership

August 14th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

A few significant events occurred recently that got me thinking about the importance of strong and responsible leadership and mentorship, and the effect it has on employees and on people’s lives.

I began my career as a lawyer. While still in law school, I applied for a summer position in one of Canada’s preeminent law firms. That’s where I met a man who gave me my first big break. He was the type of person who could look around himself, see the potential in others and nurture it. Sadly, I came to that realization while attending his funeral a few days ago. Moreover, in that moment it dawned on me that I had him to thank, in large part, for the type of leader I have become. Working with people, coaching them and giving them opportunities to shine is what being a good business person and leader is all about. He was that type of person. Sitting in that church pew surrounded by so many people he positively affected during his lifetime was motivating to me. I only hope that I can be that type of leader to the good people that work at VIA Rail.

Around the same time, an interview I gave was published as part of a series of articles in the Financial Post on the theme of “Lessons in Leadership: Reflections from Canadian CEOs”. It was an opportunity for me to once again consider my approach to leadership and in many ways share the style, tone and manner of the leadership lessons I had learned through the years, starting with that first law student job. Under the title “Why VIA Rail’s boss feels ‘getting his hands dirty’ is important”, I share those lessons. To be frank, I’ve never considered the way I work as “getting my hands dirty”. But I did learn early, and through great examples, that leaders need to earn the respect of their teams. To me, that means being an integral part of the team and pitching in, no matter what the task.

Ironically, the day of that funeral was also my own birthday. And so, as I returned to work, I was surrounded by my VIA Rail colleagues, who are also people I admire and enjoy working with. I recognized my great fortune in leading VIA Rail’s astounding team. Being the leader of that team is indeed a great honour. It is my duty to make sure, as my deceased mentor and others after him did for me, that the potential of those around me is encouraged, recognized, nurtured and rewarded. It is an awesome responsibility, and one to which I dedicate myself, in his memory.

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends and Welcoming New Talent

July 23rd 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

In 2017, VIA Rail will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. As the corporation gets closer to this big “birthday”, we are looking forward to a time of transformation as our workforce evolves. VIA Rail cares about its employees, and we have many programs to ensure that they work in a stimulating and safe environment. Proof positive of our efforts is that fact that many people, once on the VIA Rail team, stay for many years. As we get closer to our 40th, our company is reaching an age when many of our long-term employees, those who have spent a good portion of their lives serving Canadians, will be moving on to their next adventures as retirees.

Many initiatives have been put into place in order to attract bright new talent to VIA Rail and to make this transition a time of optimism, new ideas and advancement for the company. One very important partnership in this regard is with the Canada Company Military Employment Program (MET). The MET is an initiative developed to help members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), reservists and veterans transition out of the military into the civilian workforce. There are in fact many parallels between the CAF and VIA Rail in terms of work ethics and skills.

The following video created by Canada Company in conjunction with VIA Rail highlights three employees in different departments whose military training was invaluable in helping them transition into their roles at VIA Rail.


Watch the video!


We are very happy to be working with Canada Company, and look forward to welcoming more people from the CAF into the VIA Rail team. We also encourage any other potential candidates to visit our careers page. There are so many different departments to work in, and so many varied skill sets that can be applied to the work we do at VIA Rail, it’s worth a look. But fair warning – once you join the team, you may be in for the “long-haul”!

VIA Rail’s Rising Star

July 17th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

BrunoRiendeauThis Saturday, Bruno Riendeau, Director, Safety and Environment, will receive Progressive Railroading’s Rising Stars Award and will also be profiled in the September issue of their magazine. This award is given to 20 people under the age of 40 who have been identified as up-and-comers – people who are already making a difference – in the railway industry through their leadership, passion and innovation. VIA Rail’s honouree, Bruno, shows these traits and more.

Working within the Legal and Risk Management department at VIA Rail, Bruno has become an expert in his field and a member of the team that everyone should be happy we have around. The work he does brings our corporation from safe to safer, and we are thrilled that his accomplishments are being recognized. Below are four questions that explain who he is and why his job is so important. Bravo, Bruno!

What is your role at VIA Rail?

BR: I am responsible for the safety and environment corporate governance and compliance.

Simply put, I take the external requirements put forth by various groups like Transport Canada or best management standards such as ISO standards and translate them into procedures and organized systems, like our Safety Management System (SMS) and our Environmental Management System. And I have to make sure that what I propose can be done, is workable, in the field.

A big component of what I do is to work with Operations to integrate these procedures into their regular workday as seamlessly as possible. This is the part of my job where I think my strengths lie – I have a knack for bringing external requirements into the practical world.

What does your job mean for VIA?

BR: I am working to help move VIA from a safety culture based on compliance to one that uses a risk-based approach. Right now, most of the railway industry, including in North America, is very reactive. We react to the changes in regulation and make the necessary modifications to comply with them.

My job is about moving VIA Rail more towards thinking from a preventative mindset. As in, how can we identify our safety and environmental hazards so that we can be better at preventing incidents from happening instead of being reactive to them?

The fact that VIA Rail is being recognized by the industry is good evidence that we are moving in the right direction. We’re getting there. The implementation and continuous improvement of our SMS is supporting our journey to becoming a company with an even stronger safety culture based on risk management.

As for evolving the safety culture on a more personal level at VIA, this requires a shift in the way we think. It is a journey that I started a long time ago and it is improving continually. More recently, I’ve noticed a change into something new and better as we successfully develop and evolve our systems. I am working to get us closer to that objective.

What do you like best about your job?

BR: I love the challenge of finding the best way to make our SMS even better and more efficient.  To do that, I needed to learn everything about the business and know exactly how each department operates. Working with everyone across the country, in every department, and getting to know them has been one of the best parts of my job

What does this award mean to you?

BR: It is great recognition for the work that we have done – and there is a long history behind it. Everybody at VIA Rail has helped me to be successful in this role. It is also acknowledgment that the line of work I’m in is important and that it does not go unnoticed.  It’s a great opportunity for me and for VIA.  It’s motivating, and it shows that people care.

Canada Day, VIA Rail Style

July 1st 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

As you can imagine, Canada Day is a big deal at VIA Rail. We are Canada’s flag carrier passenger rail service and boast not one but two maple leafs right in our logo. This year, for the tenth year running, we will be celebrating in our nation’s capital, right in Major’s Hill Park. Ottawa itself has so many events going on – from the flag raising event celebrating 50 years of the “Maple Leaf” to the changing of the guard – it’s worth a visit. There are also concerts, dance shows and fireworks. But for us, the best part is running our miniature train. The VIA Rail mini train has been a major attraction for toddlers and young children over the years, and it’s pretty easy to see why!


However, if Ottawa is not in your plans, and you have a hankering to visit another city, in Toronto you’ll find more great Canada Day celebrations including a circus, face painting, blues performances, jazz and world music. In the evening there will, of course, be fireworks.

But, you certainly don’t need Canada Day as an excuse to travel. There are so many reasons to hop on a train this summer, and we’re here to help. Check out the new Who’s On Board section of our website and scroll down to the “WHAT’S UP IN” section. Just pick your city and pick your interest and not only will you get inspiration, you’ll also get some great deals.

what's up in

An example of what you might see by choosing Quebec City:

what's up in Quebec

No matter where you are celebrating this year, share your pictures with us using the hashtag #CanadaDay and #VIARail and a very happy Canada Day to you, from VIA Rail.

Improving Train Service in Southwestern Ontario

June 19th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

VIA Rail passengers living in Southwestern Ontario (SWO) have witnessed many changes to the train service in their area over the past couple of years. Due to many factors beginning with low ridership trains schedules in SWO have undergone several changes and several service cuts. We understand that this situation has not been ideal for everyone, especially because at VIA, we pride ourselves on working in the interest of our passengers.

This is why, over the past month we have been touring through SWO, speaking at the Chambers of commerce in the cities of London, Windsor, Stratford and Sarnia. In each city, the intention was not only to talk about VIA Rail’s strategy and objectives, but specifically to listen to the needs of each community and to see how we can work together to improve train service in SWO.

The following are a few slides from the presentations given, and include our future goals as well as a proposal for possible service in the area.

First of all, we need to ask why our clients choose to travel with VIA Rail? There are three important factors:


Unfortunately, due to the increase of freight train traffic, we have watched our On Time Performance (and therefore our reliability) deteriorate over the past few years. Through freight traffic is good for the economy, it is detrimental to the success of passenger train service. The solution to this issue would be to have dedicated tracks for passenger trains. Instead of going into too much detail here, have a look at our short video outlining the 5 things you need to know about dedicated tracks. Dedicated tracks would help improve services across the Quebec-city – Winsdor corrirdor (including SWO) by beginning with reliable, frequent service between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

In the meantime, we hope to improve service in SWO. Here are a few ways we envision doing so:



Slide27The full plan is intended to be complete by the end of 2015, with potential implementation in 2016. Of course, this is dependent on the support we receive from the communities we are serving. We are happy to report that so far, so good. Our trips to the area have been positive and supportive.

We look forward to better serving the area by continuing the dialogue with community representatives and passengers. Here’s to our bright future together.