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Month One as President and CEO

June 6th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

It has been almost one month since my appointment as President and CEO of VIA Rail Canada, and much has happened in four weeks. My thanks go to VIA Rail employees who have been incredibly supportive and generous throughout this first month.

A key objective for the first 30 days was to meet as many employees as possible. Well, so far, so good. At the end of this week, I will have met over 800 employees out of 2,447 (33%). By the end of June, I hope to more than double that number.

Meeting employees at the Montreal Maintenance Center

Meeting employees at the Montreal Maintenance Center

The insights and opinions employees provide are extremely useful. Their advice is rooted in experience and more importantly, based on first-hand knowledge about those who matter most: our passengers. With their input, my “to-do” list is growing quickly! 

On day one, our social media team created the Twitter account, @VIARailPrez.‎ To date, with 169 followers, reaching 1.3 million users, we are hopeful that Twitter will be a valuable communication channel with the public and allow for two-way dialogue.

On that same day, VIA Rail had the honour of announcing, along with the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, the investment of $10.2 Million in the Newcastle subdivision, which will allow VIA Rail to continue its Eastern Ocean long-distance train service for years to come.

By mid-week, my colleagues and I were before a committee of Council at the City of Ottawa and the local media. It provided an opportunity to reiterate our commitment to maintaining the trust of the communities we operate in, by ensuring the safety and reliability of crossing signals. Click on the following link to learn more about VIA Rail’s action plan related to Barrhaven-area railway crossing signals. 

Over the month, I travelled several times, by train of course! As CEO, I get to enjoy the same benefits train travel offers passengers, and it also affords me a great opportunity to meet with passengers. So far, all trips this month have led to great conversations. VIA Rail passengers love VIA Rail and most importantly, they really appreciate our customer service, on-board, in-station, and over the phone. Passengers did offer several different ideas to improve the business, but they also consistently praised the people of VIA Rail. That is well-deserved and a great foundation from which we can improve our business. 

On one of these trips, we shot a short video introducing who I am, and what I am about. This video should help me reach a maximum of employees from the comfort of their desk, laptop or intelligent device. ‎‎It also recognizes the large portion of those who are “on the tracks” most of the time and thus, difficult to meet as a group. Then came our Annual Public Meeting webcast. We’d like to thank everyone who participated, sent in questions, and who have since watched the webcast on VIA Rail’s YouTube channel. All submitted questions and related answers will be published on our website within the next 45 days.‎ The third week ended in Niagara Falls, with an address to elected officials at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Week four was a difficult one for everyone at VIA Rail. The tragic collision between a car and train in St-Liboire, Québec, and the two resulting fatalities, saddened us all. Our thoughts go out to the family, friends and anyone affected by this event, especially our Locomotive Engineers. Finally, the recent event in Moncton leading to the arrest of a gunman tested everyone’s strength once again. We commend all our employees in Moncton, including our Telephone Sales Office team, for their support.

During these difficult times, we salute the professionalism of our employees, and thank them for their dedication to our passengers’ safety. It reminds us that it is often when faced with the worst of situations that great people act their best, and VIA Rail employees continue to display these qualities.

It’s been a fast-paced, action-filled month. The weeks to come promise to be just as busy as I continue to meet and listen to employees, passengers, as well as some of our stakeholders and partners. All of them, like all of us at VIA Rail, want to see passenger rail grow and continue to support Canada’s prosperity. Working together, we can make that happen. 

If you’d like to read more about upcoming initiatives and activities, check back on this blog, or follow me on Twitter @VIARailPrez.

Sir John A Macdonald Rides the Train Again!

May 22nd 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Last year, VIA Rail hosted actors from the Sir John A Macdonald Bicentennial Commission onboard our Eastern long-haul train, the Ocean. Passengers were entertained with songs and stories by costumed actors. Given the overwhelmingly positive response, we’re guessing it was the best history lesson they’ve ever had. If only high school teachers would dress up and use props like the Sir John A puppet, more Canadians might know more about Sir John A, one of the “fathers of confederation” and his great influence in building the railroad that now spans Canada.

VIA Rail loved working with the Sir John A Macdonald Bicentennial Commission, so we’re bringing them back onboard in early June. This time, actors will be travelling both East and West on the Ocean and the Canadian trains, in top form, with new material, and of course, in costume. We do hope you are lucky enough to catch them in person, but if you’re not booked on one of those trains you can follow their adventures virtually.

The actors may appear right out of the 19th century, but they stay connected like it’s 2014:

Twitter

Follow #VIA_Rail for our updates about the actors on board, and other VIA Rail information.

The main Twitter hashtag for the Sir John A Macdonald Bicentennial Commission is #sirJAM, but each actor will also have their own Twitter handle. Pick which historical figure you want to follow here: https://twitter.com/SirJohnA2015/lists/salon-cast-of-characters

Sir John A Macdonald blog:
http://www.sirjohnehroadshow.com/the-actors-blog—watch-these-events-unfold.html

Facebook

VIA Rail will be posting updates and images from the train performances. Stay tuned!

VIA Rail and the Bicentennial Commission go together like… well, like Sir John A Macdonald and the railroad! The actual bicentennial of Sir John A’s birthday is on January 11th, 2015, and VIA Rail will continue to work with the Bicentennial Commission until then and beyond.

Enjoy the history lesson… er, the show!

Saluting the Canadian Military

May 8th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

On May 9th, Canada will be remembering the efforts and sacrifices of those who served in Afghanistan through the country’s first National Day of Honour. Led by the National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, the Ceremony will take place in Ottawa and begins with a military parade from the Canadian War Museum to Parliament Hill, followed by two minutes of silence, a fly-by salute and a viewing of the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill.

Leading up to the National Ceremony is the six-day Soldier On Afghanistan Relay (SOAR). The final leg of the relay ends on May 9th at Parliament Hill, in time for the main event. SOAR is a relay to recognize those who fought in Afghanistan, remember those who fell, and salute all who contributed to the ten-year mission. During this relay, select ill and injured members from the Soldier On program will carry the last Canadian flag flown in Kabul, Afghanistan from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario to the National Day of Honour parade in Ottawa.

VIA Rail takes pride in its ongoing collaboration with the Canadian Military. By offering travel credit, we are able to support events such as SOAR, organizations like  Vimy Foundation and True Patriot Love, and contribute prizes to the Canadian Armed Forces Photography Contest. VIA Rail also started a special program offering a discounted fare for military personnel, veterans and their families. Since its launch in 2010, over 88,000 have taken advantage of the program.

We salute all those participating in the relay, as well as the National Ceremony. To learn more about the day’s events, you can visit the Government of Canada’s National Day of Honour webpage.

Safety at Railway Crossings: a Few Tips

May 2nd 2014 by Jean Tierney

This week marks Operation Lifesaver’s Public-Rail Safety Week.  This year’s theme, “See Tracks? Think Train!” says it all. We must all be vigilant around train tracks, and respect the rules of the railway.

Every year, VIA Rail participates in this important event, in which volunteers engage in various activities to teach the public about railway safety.  This year, the Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, marked the launch of Public-Rail Safety Week with a few key messages.

Transport Canada and Operation Lifesaver have great websites with important information and tips to raise awareness about safety around railways. As a quick reminder, here are a few tips about crossing a railway, taken from Ministry of Transportation, Ontario’s website:

Railway crossing safety tips

  • As you come to a crossing, slow down, listen and look both ways before crossing the tracks.
  • If a train is coming, stop at least five metres from the nearest rail or gate. Do not cross the track until you are sure the train or trains have passed.
  • Never race a train to the crossing. Do not cross the track until you are sure the train or trains have passed. If there are signals, wait until they stop flashing and, if the crossing has a barrier, wait until it rises before you cross. Never drive around, under or through a railway gate while it is down or is being lowered or raised. Never stop on the tracks.

The webpage, with more information about railway crossings can visited at http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/topics/X-crossing.shtml

To participate in Operation Lifesaver activities, please visit OL’s website for more information:  www.operationlifesaver.ca, and for a visual and informative view on level crossing incident trends over the past few years, have a look at this important infographic, prepared by Operation Lifesaver.

For your and everyone’s safety, please remember to respect crossing signals at all times. Do not attempt to cross a railroad track when the warning devices are activated, regardless of the inconvenience it may cause.

 

VIA Rail at the heart of Dawson College’s CASE Competition

April 25th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

VIA Rail’s Ryan Lee accepts the Organization of the Year award at the Dawson CASE competition

When it comes to learning, practical experience is as essential as theoretical knowledge. For some students, Dawson College’s Annual Bilingual Business Administration CASE Competition is one way to put their knowledge to the test. VIA Rail analysts, Ryan Lee and Nicholas Mackenzie, were part of the jury that met on April 6th, where finalists from 17 Cegeps, divided into 24 groups of three, took part in this exciting marketing and business competition.

VIA Rail employees not only sat on the jury, they also provided the marketing case study for the event. If you think they took it easy on the group of amateurs, think again. Students were asked to develop a short-term strategic plan and creative marketing plan to help VIA Rail meet the growing competition and demographic changes, while stimulating a train culture among young Canadians.

In less than three hours, the teams had to learn as much as possible about VIA Rail, analyze, assess and solve the business case, and prepare a marketing plan in the form of a 20 minute PowerPoint presentation. This was followed by a five-minute question period during which the jury quizzed the teams’ research, their plans and their understanding of the topic.

At this year’s competition, teams from Lionel-Groulx College and Cégep André-Laurendeau tied for first place. Jury members were impressed by the presentations, to say the least! VIA Rail’s Ryan Lee and Nicholas Mackenzie were blown away by the high quality work of participants. Not only did students benefit from the competition, the jury members felt rejuvenated as well, “What the students gave us in return, by means of their youthful energy, their bold idealism and their unquenchable thirst for excellence, was priceless”, beamed Ryan Lee.

Dawson College also took the opportunity to present VIA Rail with the Organization of the Year award, which honours the corporation for its “exceptional leadership, exemplary customer service and employee relations”.

VIA Rail was proud to participate in this initiative, where young professionals connect and learn through real case studies. Congratulations to the winner and to all participants, we are sure we’ll be seeing more from these talented young students in the years to come.