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!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting our Heritage station in Cobourg to officially open our fully accessible walkway and heated central platform. Also in attendance were Gil Brocanier, Mayor of Cobourg, MP Richard Norlock, Member of Parliament for Northumberland-Quinte West and Paul G. Smith, Chairman of the Board of VIA Rail. The station itself is beautiful, and dates back to 1911. Given its history, it’s no surprise that it became a Designated Heritage Railway Station in 1993.
Cobourg station is the third within the Kingston subdivision to be outfitted with an overhead walkway, the other two being at Belleville and Oshawa stations. Aside from the improvement to accessibility (the walkways have elevators on either side so that passengers can access the new central platform), the new overhead footbridge was a necessity…
Over the past few years, rail traffic has been increasing exponentially. As many of you may know, 98% of the track on which VIA Rail operates is owned by other rail carriers (such as CN and CP). Therefore, an increase in freight traffic affects our schedule and on-time performance. In order to mitigate the potential delays, a third track was built at various points along the Kingston subdivision – in total 45 miles’ worth of third track was added! This extra track allows passenger and freight trains to overtake and pass each other without needing to slow down or stop on a siding – which is a big benefit for VIA Rail’s passengers. Adding a third track also meant that a way to safely access the track was needed; thus the footbridge.
Since joining VIA Rail, and especially since becoming the President and CEO, I have made it a priority to remain in open communication with our passengers. Though yesterday was the official opening, the walkway in Cobourg has been in operation since February of this year, and we have already received valuable passenger feedback. For example, following client requests, we will be adding more seating within the walkway itself, to both the upper and lower levels.
What VIA Rail does best, why we exist, is to serve the smaller communities along our route. An investment in improving our station and services in Cobourg is an investment in the community itself. We will continue to work in collaboration with the cities and towns along our network, both to improve the services we offer and to make sure VIA Rail remains an important contributor to the communities.
It’s been a great summer at VIA Rail with many new projects and lots of helpful feedback from employees and passengers. We’re looking forward to a great fall too. Here is a little preview of what you’ll be seeing very soon…
First of all, our iconic long-haul train The Canadian will be outfitted with newly refurbished, fully accessible cabin. Committed to ensuring quality passenger rail service to all Canadians, we designed a spacious room with all amenities needed to accommodate people with disabilities. This new cabin includes an en suite bathroom with a fully accessible private shower, and a larger living area. Furthermore, passengers travelling in this room will benefit from “room-service”- meals will be brought to them from the dining car. Canada is a beautiful country, and VIA Rail is proud to offer these improved services to make the trip an enjoyable and comfortable experience for all passengers.
On the fare side, we will be offering two new student passes this fall. VIA Rail is dedicated to providing safe and convenient transportation for Canada’s students – we recognize the role they will play in our country’s future. While travelling university-bound students are surely excited for the independence this new stage of life has in store, we know that everyone gets a little homesick sometimes (and that parents miss having their kids around too!). Luckily, we’ve got two new youth passes, for those weekends where the laundry pile is just too high and the thought of another pizza dinner just doesn’t cut it.
Our 20/20 discount card offers year-round 20% discounts on select fares, while our semester pass provides 120 days of travel for one great price. So whether you’ll be home every other weekend or just for the holidays, VIA Rail has got you covered.
To keep informed about VIA Rail’s continually evolving and improving service, be sure to check back on my President’s blog, follow us on twitter @via_rail / @VIARailPrez and like us on Facebook!