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Innovate, create, and celebrate

February 12th 2016 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

I have always been passionate about embracing innovation and encouraging creative ideas, and consider it a hallmark of my leadership style. Employee innovation and creativity will play essential roles in VIA Rail’s success, which is why last fall we introduced a new employee recognition program: the Distinction Awards. This is a regional program where employees nominate other employees who excel in the fields of customer service, maintenance, innovation, and team building. In addition to recognizing employees who have gone above and beyond, we hope these awards inspire others to follow their example.

At a national level, we introduced the Client Innovation Challenge. It invites all VIA Rail employees to submit their ideas on how we could further improve our customer experience.  Many of our employees are customer-facing, and therefore have an insider’s perspective on how to best meet their needs.  Employees from all sectors submitted projects based on their own experiences. The Client Innovation Challenge was a concrete way to recognize the value of their ideas and experiences.

Nine teams rose to the challenge and, after careful consideration, our selection committee narrowed down the proposals down to three finalists. The diversity of the proposed projects was amazing, the finalists of which addressed inter-modality, technology, and an online kids program.  We had only planned on selecting one winning team, but we were so impressed with the caliber of our employees’ projects that we decided to award the prize to all three finalists.  Since VIA Rail’s commitment to employee innovation goes beyond just words, these three projects will go into development in the upcoming year.

Our winners were celebrated on stage at our employee distinction event.  It was an honour to present the winners with their trophies and share their innovative projects with the rest of our employees. Pictured here is our winning team from Toronto who are getting kids excited about taking the train by modernizing our onboard kids program and adding an online component.


Elizabeth Brown, Debbie Hsia-Nembhard and Pravita Luximon won the award for their kids program

Based on the success of this year’s Client Innovation Challenge, we intend to continue with this initiative and to inspire future creative thinking. So if you have a game-changing idea, don’t hesitate to share it! Participate in the 2016 Client Innovation Challenge and submit your innovative ideas early and often.

Congratulations again to all our winners!

The Youth Factor

February 5th 2016 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Today’s youth will be tomorrow’s decision makers, which is why we have made it part of our mission to engage them in conversation. Last year I was fortunate enough to witness the amazing potential of Canadian youth firsthand when I served as co-chairman of national We Day. This year, we’re embarking on a tour of nine Canadian universities to talk to over 1,000 young Canadians about the future of passenger rail and the important role they can play in shaping it.  At VIA Rail we have a lot of respect for students and the changes they can bring about. Their values and concerns align closely with those of VIA Rail, and will hopefully make the train a popular choice for future generations.

Young people today are mobile, but not in the way you’d expect.  Only 63% of people between the ages of 16-24 in the US have a driver’s license – the lowest percentage since 1963.[1] To my generation, car keys represented freedom, but today, freedom is about being virtually connected with friends and family. In fact, 43% of millennials said they prefer communicating with their friends on social media as opposed seeing them in person.[2] Furthermore, the younger generation prefer public transportation or ride sharing because it means they can stay online while travelling. With free WIFI in our stations and on board all our trains from Halifax to Windsor, travelling with VIA Rail means staying connected and productive throughout your journey.

Furthermore, the youth of today have a green heart.  The transport sector is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions so transportation choices have a big impact on overall environmental footprint. More and more millennials are guided by environmental consciousness and choose to take the train, public transit, walk or bike to reduce their carbon footprint. VIA Rail is proud to be one of the greenest travel choices, and to serve our customers in an environmentally sustainable and responsible manner. And our environmental impact will be further reduced with the realisation of our Dedicated Tracks Project.

Here is where we’ll be over the next few months. If you are a student at any of these schools, please come by and join the conversation:

  • HEC (Université de Montréal): April 6, 2016.
  • Université Laval: April 18, 2016
  • John Molson School of Business (Concordia University), University of Ottawa, University of Guelph, Brock, and Ryerson: dates to be confirmed, stay tuned!

The youth of today are the future.  And the future is taking the train.

[1] RTA, Chicago, Reaching New Riders

[2] ZipCar, Millenials and the new American Dream, 2014

10 Things That Got People Talking

December 26th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Speaking to the business community at Chambers of Commerce or other venues about VIA Rail and our vision of passenger train travel in Canada is always energizing. The projects we’ve been working on, the innovation, the forward-thinking plan… its amazing fun to watch people’s reaction when they realize how relevant the train already is and how important it will become in the coming years (especially as it’s the greenest travel choice for inter-city trips).

When addressing audiences at universities or conferences like Start Up, however, the focus of the conversation migrates more toward my role as the head of a Crown corporation. As part of my preparation for these events, I put together a list of “Top 10 Leadership Habits”, which was of particular interest to the groups. In the coming year, I am looking forward to continuing my tour of Canadian universities and speaking to more bright and eager students about the train and my role at VIA Rail.

Until then, I offer a “sneak-peek” into my presentation. Here is the much talked-about Top 10 list that struck a chord with many and was the instigator of inspired questions and great conversations:

Top 10 Leadership Habits

  1. Be a doer and a thinker
  2. Accept that everyone may see what you see, but leaders act on it
  3. Have a bias for action
  4. Fail fast
  5. Execution eats strategy for breakfast
  6. Listen to your gut
  7. It’s called common sense because everyone has some
  8. The leader is the message – You are the brand
  9. As a leader, you bring meaning to people’s lives – The job is how you do it
  10. Have fun and enjoy the ride!

If you have comments or any questions about my list, connect with me on Twitter at @VIARailPrez.

Looking forward to seeing you onboard in 2016,

Happy holidays and Merry Travels!


Why VIA Rail Took the COP 21 Pledge

December 4th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

This week, VIA Rail along with 65 other railway members of the UIC, signed an ambitious pledge with the goal of reducing its impact on climate change. This event coincided with the meeting of global climate change-makers in Paris, at COP21. These are people dedicated to reducing climate change and willing to put pen to paper to make it happen.

After many years of negotiations, it is expected that a worldwide, legally binding limit on GHG emissions will be agreed upon at United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) by Dec 11. The agreement, by more than 150 countries, will aim at preventing a rise in global average temperature of more than two degrees Celsius.

The transport sector (planes, cars, trains, buses…) is a major source of GHG emissions. Therefore, setting limits on emissions would have significant impact on both the transport industry and the climate.

In Canada, our chosen modes of transportation are the largest contributor to GHG emissions. In 2013*, the transportation sector (including all forms of passenger, freight, air, road and marine travel) generated 28% of all emissions nationally. However, of all the modes of transport, the rail industry’s impact on the environment is the least significant – it only accounted for 1.02% of national emissions. Furthermore, passenger rail represents a mere 0.01% of GHG emissions across Canada. Therefore, a shift toward travel by rail is part of ensuring sustainable mobility and is an important factor in the solution to climate change.

To stimulate the shift in getting Canadians to leave their cars at home and take the train, VIA Rail must meet the needs of our passengers: reliability (on time performance), frequency (departures per day), and travel time. These needs can only be met through a mix of greater access to rail infrastructure and where markets can justify, dedicated passenger rail corridors, beginning on the busiest Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal (T-O-M) routes.

Conservative projections show that a dedicated passenger track would increase VIA Rail passenger traffic by almost 300% over 12 years – from 2.3 million to 6.8 million on the T-O-M routes – and would remove approximately 5.5 million cars from the road. 5.5 million fewer cars would make a very significant impact on the reduction of Canada’s GHG emissions and on climate change. This is a project that can be a reality within the next 5 years.

In the meantime, everyone can help to reduce their own carbon emission impact by making a conscious choice to take the train for their next intercity trip.

With the future environmental health of our country (and the world) at stake, VIA Rail is pledging to make a difference. We hope for your contribution as well.

See you on board soon!

*source: 1990-2013 “Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada”, Environment Canada National Inventory Report

Want to Write a Book? Take the Train!

November 20th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

In a previous post, I outlined best practices for communicating with my team. One of the most important messages that I put forth, especially at VIA, is “Talk Less – Act More”. By giving our employees the tools and the confidence to act, we are able to accomplish more – and more quickly. Every day, VIA Rail’s 2,500+ employees work together toward a common goal of making our company the best inter-city transportation option for Canadians.

So, when we were approached to support the 24 heures du roman project, I couldn’t help but identify with the concept. 24 writers board our Ocean train and within 24 hours write 24 chapters which will be complied into one book. Aside from the fact that the chosen topic of the book was Canadian historical figure Samuel de Champlain, I respect the ambition behind this project. It began with a good cause (celebrating the 400th year of a francophone presence in Ontario), which was supported by a creative plan (travelling along the same path taken by Champlain some 400 years ago, and using the train as a source of inspiration) and ended with a tangible outcome (the book). This project had it all, including the dedicated team needed to pull it off.

In late October, 24 French-language authors from France, Belgium, Acadia, Quebec and Ontario boarded our train in Halifax and tackled the challenge of writing a collaborative novel in one day. The initiative was put forth by L’Ecriture en Movement, whose mission is to promote French-language writing. The writers were assigned the task of writing their respective chapters during the trip, after which each chapter fit together into one cohesive novel. This was no small effort. VIA Rail employees and organizers from L’Ecriture en Movement did a lot of prep work before the journey took place, and once the train began its trip, it was “all hands on deck” (so to speak). With one common goal in mind, VIA Rail employees made sure everybody had what they needed to be as productive as possible.


And was this ambitious book project completed? As of today, and less than a month after their literary journey, the novel entitled, “Sur les traces de Champlain, un destin extraordinaire en 24 tableaux” has been published and is being presented at the Salon de Livre de Montreal on Saturday.

It goes to show what exceptional things can be accomplished when talented people work and ride together on a VIA Rail train. Congratulations to all those involved in this endeavour!