VIA Rail an astounding history
In the century that followed the launch of Canada's first public railway, thousands of kilometres of track were laid across the new country, acting as a binding force and playing a steadily expanding social and economic role. But the invention of the automobile, and shortly thereafter the airplane, reshaped an already rapidly changing society.
The 1950's. In the postwar era, automobiles became more affordable and therefore more attractive to consumers, who enjoyed the freedom it gave them. This led to the construction of new highways and improvements to road networks throughout North America. Meanwhile airlines responded to growing demand by introducing more flights and new destinations across the country - all the while cutting fares. Little by little, governments abandoned passenger rail and instead invested huge sums in transportation by road and air.
The 1960's. In 1967, Canada's two railway companies, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway, wanted to drop passenger services and only carry freight. Since the federal government considered passenger trains an essential service, it agreed that same year to cover 80% of the losses the two companies incurred with their passenger services. This funding, however, did not lead CP and CN Rail to invest more in passenger trains. Service continued to deteriorate and ridership shrank. In fact, in 1967 - the centennial of a nation the railway built - Canada's passenger railway seemed to be on the verge of becoming a thing of the past
The 1970's. In 1977, the federal government led by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau took an unprecedented step in Canada. Inspired by the 1971 creation of Amtrak in the United States, it created VIA Rail Canada on the grounds that a Crown corporation with an exclusive mission to organize and provide all intercity passenger train services in Canada could really reduce costs and improve service.
The 21st century. At the dawn of the third millennium, VIA Rail is clearly an essential entity: in addition to being a viable business, it continuously innovates. And above all, it has convinced millions of people that trains are "the more human way to travel".
J. Frank Roberts was named VIA Rail's first President and Chief Executive Officer. Since then, nine presidents have succeeded him.
In January, VIA Rail orders ten LRC (light, rapid, comfortable) trains from Bombardier. Three years later, in September 1981, they go into service between Toronto and Sarnia. It also acquires locomotives and cars from freight carriers CN and CP, and signs agreements with the two companies to obtain train crews, maintenance services and access to tracks.
On October 29, VIA Rail launches its first transcontinental passenger service between Montréal and Vancouver: the Super Continental.
In its first two years of business, VIA Rail merged the old CN Rail and Canadian Pacific passenger services into a single network. It also completed the first stage of a long-term strategy to increase receipts by attracting customers that generate more revenue.
|1979||In October, the CP station in Vancouver closes. Henceforth transcontinental trains use the CN station.|
|1980||In March, VIA Rail launches its in-house reservation system. A few months later, in October, it introduces VIA 1 first class service between Montréal and Toronto (Québec City Windsor corridor).|
On July 1, the first LRC train is delivered to Windsor Station in Montréal. This marks the beginning of a long-term strategy to make train travel practical and attractive. Later that year, October 27 marks the 125th anniversary of the first passenger service between Montréal and Toronto.
On November 1, VIA Rail streamlines its services (including the Atlantic and Super Continental) with a 20% cutback that eliminates 400 jobs.
|1983||In April, the Montréal Maintenance Centre, specializing in LRC trains, opens in Ville Saint Pierre. In August, a system-wide management reorganization is implemented and 109 positions (management and non-unionized) are cut.|
In April, VIA moves its head office to Place Ville Marie in Montréal.
On September 10, VIA welcomes Pope John Paul II aboard the pontifical train. A bomb explosion at Montréal Central Station a week earlier urged VIA Rail Canada to tighten security.
In June, VIA opens the Toronto Maintenance Centre and 1,000 CN Rail maintenance employees join VIA. The following month, VIA orders 20 new locomotives. On October 8, Gare du Palais, one of the first fully restored historical stations, reopens in downtown Québec City.
In the second half of the decade, VIA Rail opened its own maintenance centres in Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Halifax, giving the Corporation better control over maintenance schedules and quality. VIA also hired some 1,000 train conductors, trainmen and locomotive engineers transferred from CN, giving VIA Rail direct control over train operations.
The 150th anniversary of passenger train travel in Canada is marked by a logo. Also celebrated this year is the centennial of Vancouver, which grew up around the first train station on Canada's West Coast. VIA participates in Expo 86 and on May 29 launches "Canada's Classic Train Experience", its first luxury tour train in the Rockies.
February 8 brings the darkest day in VIA Rail's history when two trains collide at Hinton, Alberta, resulting in 23 deaths.
|1987||In May, VIA introduces its on time policy: passengers receive travel credits if their train arrives late. In June, CN train conductors and trainmen join VIA, and the Montréal Maintenance Centre opens.|
|1988||The first Panorama lounge, exclusively for the use of VIA 1 class passengers, is unveiled at Toronto's Union Station. A little later the top-priority Montréal-Toronto project is launched. The first stainless steel cars refurbished under the plan to convert to electricity enter the shop in October. That same month, VIA installs the latest equipment in its VIA 1 class LRC cars: cellular phones!|
Two new maintenance centres open: in Halifax (in January), and in Vancouver (in April).
That fall, the federal government announces major personnel cuts at VIA Rail effective January 15, 1990.
In its effort to reduce the national deficit, Ottawa slashes its funding to cover VIA's operating expenses practically in half from $600 million to $350 million. A total of 2,761 employees, or 38% of VIA's 7,300 person workforce, lose their jobs. In Québec only, 994 positions are eliminated.
VIA Rail abandons its southern transcontinental route in favour of the northern one.
Ottawa also ordered VIA to reduce passenger service by 50% and announced that public funding for passenger trains would continue shrinking from $230 million in 1993 to $170 million in 1998.
Having to choose between reducing service or increasing revenue, VIA opted for another approach: increasing both servicesandrevenue. VIA undertook a complete corporate reorganization, cutting administrative expenses and indirect costs by 60%. At the same time, it took steps to give passengers more value for their dollar, engaged in more effective marketing to attract travellers, and reduced any expenditure that did not directly contribute to increasing ridership.
VIA Rail adopted a management approach that made excellent customer service the absolute priority. It embarked on a major campaign to improve service - particularly by adding 22 weekly departures in the Québec City Windsor corridor - and introduced luxury Silver & Blue class aboard the Western transcontinental, the Canadian.
Despite huge cutbacks by the federal government, VIA held its ground: by the turn of the century it had developed a solid worldwide reputation for excellent customer service to the extent of garnering a coveted Global Award at the World Travel Market in London, England for its contribution to Canada's travel and tourism industry.
|1991||In June, VIA gives its LRC trains a new look and launches Operation Excellence nationwide. In December, employee efforts bear fruit: the Winnipeg and Vancouver Maintenance Centres are awarded international gold-star rating.|
|1992||Silver & Blue class is launched in June. Several months later in October, travel time between Montréal and Toronto is reduced to 3 hours and 59 minutes. Panorama lounges open in Montréal and Ottawa. Winnipeg Station undergoes a major renovation.|
|1993||In May, Vancouver Station becomes Pacific Central Station. In June, Easterly class is introduced aboard the Ocean between Montréal and Halifax.|
|1994||By March, the "Ideas in Motion" program launched the year before is in full swing. Over 345 teams across the country come up with suggestions for lowering costs and generating revenue. In October, VIA wins the Brunel Design Award for the overhaul of its stainless steel fleet.|
By spring, a national railway strike dragging on since the start of the year is affecting the entire country, including VIA Rail and its numerous passengers. That spring, VIA also becomes the world's first ground carrier to be hooked up to flight booking systems, thereby opening a huge market for its products.
In March, VIA Rail unveils its first web site.
In May, Northern Québec trains become day trains, replacing the night trains to promote ecotourism. The same is done with the Skeena train on the Jasper-Prince Rupert route and with the Hudson Bay train between Churchill and Winnipeg.
That fall, VIA creates various training programs for improving employee quality of service, including Canalert to study operating crew liveliness and fatigue.
|1996||VIA's onboard personnel get a new look with a navy blue uniform that wins a Brunel Design Award. In April, "Vialogue" becomes a magazine-style publication. Two months later, VIA introduces its reward program for passengers dubbed VIA Préférence.|
In February, VIA launches a new online booking system, VIA Resernet.
The Atlantic (Montréal-Sherbrooke-Halifax route) is dropped.
|1998||January's ice storm paralyzes an area of southern Québec and the American Northeast for several weeks. VIA service is briefly interrupted. In July, New Era Passenger Operations (NEPO) is implemented. In November, VIA introduces Romance by Rail, a package for couples who want to travel in a private suite.|
|1999||January brings the successful launch of AirConnect, a shuttle service between Dorval Station and Dorval Airport (today, Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport). In spring, VIA unveils its new logo. That August, Winnipeg Station garners a BOMA Award for its design. That fall, the Corporation launches its VIAPAQ Courrrier service.|
The federal government commits to long-term support for VIA by announcing a $402 million investment to revitalize passenger rail service in Canada through a five year capital expenditure program for Renaissance cars. This helps Canada attain the objectives set by the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Following Ottawa's announcement, VIA announced that it would acquire new rolling stock and upgrade its infrastructure, stations, safety measures, and environmental practices. VIA bought ultramodern cars designed for overnight trips, and increased its fleet by 30%. It also acquired 21 new locomotives and began refurbishing its VIA 1 LRC cars.
|2001||In January, VIA implements a new organizational structure: Strategy, Operations, Control. That summer, it submits its rail safety management system to Transport Canada. Meanwhile, passengers begin reading the first copies of the Corporation's new magazine, "VIA Destinations".|
|2002||The first Renaissance cars go into service this summer with the Enterprise, the overnight train between Montréal and Toronto. A few months later, others provide day service between Montréal and Québec City.|
|2003||Celebrations for VIA Rail's 25thanniversary (as an independent Crown Corporation) include a commemorative logo and souvenir book. In January, VIA unveils its new strategic plan entitled "People moving people". In July, self service ticketing kiosks become available in the Corridor, and wireless Internet is tested along that route. Renaissance cars make their debut in Eastern Canada. In December, the government announces new funding for VIA.|
|2004||Renaissance trains continue to be deployed in Eastern Canada.|
|2005||New Easterly class, featuring A Maritime Learning Experience, is introduced aboard the Ocean between Montréal and Halifax.|
|2006||Wi-Fi provides passengers in VIA 1 class and Comfort class with wireless Internet access aboard all Québec City-Windsor corridor trains, as well as in many stations along that route.|