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To Be Young Again: Discover Canada With No Limits!

June 27th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Growing up as a first generation Canadian with immigrant parents, there was nothing better than discovering all that Canada had to offer. My parents loved the country, and encouraged me to visit as much of it as I could.  One of my first travelling adventures was as a high school student, taking the train to London, Ontario, where I participated in an exchange program. As a parent, I also encouraged my two daughters to visit and learn about their homeland. They both ended up going to Queen’s University in Kingston, and travelled home by train whenever they could (which was never often enough!).

There’s something magical about train travel, especially in one’s youth. The formative years full of discovery, adventure, reflections, chance meetings… it’s all a part of becoming well-informed about who we are, who we can be and how we’ll participate in Canadian life as productive, well-rounded, well-grounded adults. It’s also part of becoming Canadian.

For many young people, the quintessential dream of “backpacking across Europe” has become the ideal summer vacation. And it’s usually done using a rail pass. So, why not do the same thing here at home? In my opinion, having done both as a young man, I believe Canada’s artistic, culinary, musical and linguistic ranges, in addition to its varied geography and industrial diversity allows it to compete quite favorably with the cultural mosaic youth can expect from travelling overseas. But, it’s in looneys!

It’s with this dream of summers past that one of the first things we did after my appointment as President and CEO was to create an unlimited youth summer pass. The Summer Pass means students can hop-on and hop-off, with no limitations to the number of trips over the summer months, and discover the country at their own pace. They can travel through the Corridor or across our whole network. They choose the Pass that meets their adventurous ambitions. Hopefully, many will take us up on our offer to discover Canada.

In the fall, still with youth in mind, we plan to focus on the many students studying in the communities across our network, so they can return home more often, as my daughters did, for a great meal, help with the laundry and a big hug!

Stay tuned for more youth and student oriented promotions this fall. In the meantime, let the backpacking across Canada begin!

You Asked, We Answered

June 18th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Recently, VIA Rail received the following message through social media (note that the question was shortened, where indicated. Caps are original):

“ PLEASE NEW VIA RAIL PRESIDENT: […]How about FINALLY providing frustrated Via Rail passengers with SPECIFIC STEPS that are currently being taken to improve DECLINING ON-TIME TRAIN PERFORMANCE!?? […] HOW ABOUT […] MORE DELIVERY OF ACTUAL “SOLUTIONS” TO VIA RAIL PROBLEMS WHICH PASSENGERS HAVE RAISED FOR YEARS NOW!”

In addition to responding directly to the concerned party, I wanted to publish my answer regarding on-time performance, an ongoing challenge faced by VIA Rail. Below is my response, which I hope helps the concerned party, along with all passengers, understand this issue a little more clearly.

Thank you for sharing your concern about the on-time performance (“OTP”) of our trains. We understand and in many ways, we share your frustration. ‎This time of year is often the worst in terms of OTP for all railways as it is the season during which much maintenance work is undertaken to keep the infrastructure in a state of good repair. This might include replacing rails, rail ties and ballasts and adjusting or upgrading crossings and other railway signal systems. These necessary projects often impose slower speeds at the work location which in turn have a domino effect on the rest of the network, particularly in single track territories‎. 

However, in addition to the work season, it is to be expected that as railway traffic grows, rail congestion will also increase. Recent traffic growth can be attributed to increased demand for both freight and passenger rail transportation. ‎Over the past few years, many regional passenger transportation systems have increased their rail component. 

That being said, here is what have we being doing to improve the situation at VIA Rail:

‎First, we focus on one element we do control: on-time departures (“OTD”). In the railway business, leaving on time increases the probability that a train gets to destination on time, subject to unforeseen circumstances such as accidents or mechanical failures. That is because contrary to car or air travel, trains operate in a pre-set sequence, under established operating rules. Thus trains can rarely make up for lost time by taking alternative routes or by increasing their speed. Our focus on OTD has resulted in the vast majority of our Quebec-Windsor (“Corridor”) trains leaving on-time.  

Second, working with our freight and passenger railway partners‎, we look for ways to improve the sequencing and performance of trains. This means that we work to adjust the schedules so that time-to-destination improves, passengers get to their destination sooner, and the trains can service more customers. Our railway partners share VIA Rail’s objective of running on time. In a networked environment such as a railroad, delays by trains of one railway may impact several trains of other railways operating on the same tracks. 

As you know, Canada is a vast country with its relatively small population distributed ‎unevenly across its many cities and towns. As a result, expensive infrastructure such as railroads must be deployed cost-effectively. VIA Rail owns and controls 177 miles of track between Coteau (QC) and Smiths Falls (ON) and between Windsor (ON) and Chatham (ON). On the Coteau – Smiths Falls segment, where VIA Rail controls traffic and where there is only one freight train per day, the on-time performance of VIA Rail trains is well over 95%. By comparison, on the rest of the Corridor where VIA Rail trains share the railroad with other passenger or freight railways, and where traffic is controlled by the host railway, it is challenging to maintain a consistent on-time performance of over 80%. 

In light of the above, we must expect that running trains on time will remain a challenge. However, as opportunities arise for VIA Rail to acquire tracks in regions where it can be justified by potential increase in traffic‎, these opportunities will be considered.

In the meantime, we must continue to deploy all efforts to get more people to use VIA Rail trains and to recognize the true value of the service. That is where you come in by continuing to allow us to meet your transportation needs and to encourage others to do the same. We thank you for your business and remain committed to be of service.

Creativity and Innovation Encouraged at VIA Rail

June 13th 2014 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Since my last post, my Canada-wide listening tour, to meet with as many employees and train passengers as possible, to hear their thoughts about VIA Rail, continues. To date, I have met with almost 1,000 VIA Rail employees and over 50 train passengers. These meetings have provided the venue for some memorable conversations with individuals who are passionate about providing great passenger rail service. In the spirit of open communication and looking forward, the comments, suggestions, and ideas brought forth in these discussions are encouraged and welcomed. Employees know the passengers best, and their input is priceless – input which, as a team, we use to continuously improve VIA Rail’s service. I look forward to hearing more voices, and engaging in more dialogues about how we can grow passenger rail in Canada.  

This week, I’d like to draw attention to a group of employees whose creativity has inspired me: the Jasper equipment maintenance crew. Seeking a way to quickly and safely navigate on the platform to perform essential train maintenance, the team turned to bikes! For two years the Jasper Maintenance Center has been using bicycles to move small tools, carry equipment parts, and throw switches without disturbing travelling passengers. On top of being an environmentally conscious choice, their out-of-the-box solution embodies the type of innovation and teamwork that I so strongly believe in.

Stories such as these highlight the thoughtful ways in which employees make VIA Rail the more human way to travel. A dedication to efficiency and a consideration for passengers and their travel experience are amongst the defining characteristics of a trip with VIA Rail. The Jasper equipment maintenance crew exemplifies VIA Rail’s “put the passengers first” mentality – and they have fun while doing so.

We love to hear the ways in which VIA Rail employees have improved your travel experiences, so send us your “VIA Rail experience” stories through Facebook, or tweet them using #VIAExperience. To stay up to date on my initiatives and events, follow me @VIARailPrez.

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!