Editorials and Comments

For an excellent explanation of the need for government to invest in passenger rail, see the following NARP video below.

Federal Government Report Recommends Killing Trans-Canada Passenger Rail Service:


A recent post on Transport Action Canada’s website has mentioned that a new Government report recommends eliminating operating grants for VIA Rail’s “Canadian” which runs from Toronto to Vancouver: https://www.transportaction.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Transport-Action-Newsletter-Vol.-37-No.-1-February-2016.pdf
Specifically the report states that the Rocky Mountaineer is requesting that, at a minimum, subsidies for VIA’s “Canadian” transcontinental and tourist service to be eliminated.

In fact the recommendation to eliminate Federal investments in this report is nothing new, but just a rehash of tired old attacks from anti-rail lobbyists & politicians trying to undermine VIA, an essential year-round transportation link to towns & cities across Canada that provides a valuable service to the millions of people who use it every year at a fraction of the government spending given to roads, and with the ability to serve far more city pairs than air ever could.

The simple fact is that other modes of transportation require far more extensive subsidies from the taxpayer than passenger rail does.

Passenger rail’s meager funding of about $200 million per yr is less than 1% of the government spending given to other modes – roads, air transport, marine terminals, sidewalks, ect. which aren’t expected to pay their own way much less operate at a profit. (http://www.comt.ca/english/statistics.pdf)

The fact that the U.S. continues to invest in its national passenger rail system with new rolling stock, daily service on most long distance routes, and record ridership levels, while on this side of the border the sad fact that transcontinental service has been cut to 2 days per week in favor of more cars & buses on icy roads is a scathing indictment of Canadian transportation policy.

The Federal Operating Grant for VIA Rail’s Canadian should be maintained for the following reasons:

Reason #1: Other modes of transportation require far more extensive subsidies from the taxpayer than passenger rail does:

Case #1, Subsidies for Air Transport up to $1,500 per Passenger:
Government spending on air transport is $891 million per year according to the following report:
In addition, provincial airfare reduction programs have taxpayers shelling out subsidies of up to $1,500 per passenger:
Subsidies of up to $1,500 per passenger for remote air services- and yet it is not air transport, but passenger rail that is continually under scrutiny.
Case #2, Subsidies per Passenger for Bus Transport- $100:
Government subsidies to roads have spiraled out of control from $17 billion in 2008 (http://www.comt.ca/english/statistics.pdf) to $29 billion in 2011 (http://thecostofsprawl.com/report/the-costs-of-roads-and-highways.pdf), with heavy vehicles like buses & trucks responsible for the majority of pavement damage http://www.rits.rutgers.edu/files/impactofbuses.pdf.
The following report states pavement damage from motor coaches is approximately 6.4 percent of the damage caused by trucks on an annual basis:
The following source indicates 50% of highway costs can be allocated to heavy trucks:
Pavement damage from motor coaches is therefore 6.4% of 50%, or approximately 3.2% of highway costs.
With road costs in Canada at $29 billion/yr, total cost of pavement damage from motor coaches is therefore 3.2% of $29 billion = 927 million dollars/year.
Intercity bus ridership in Canada is 10 million passengers / year per wikipedia:
The subsidy per motor coach passenger is therefore about $100 (927 million dollars/year / 10 million passengers / year)
The report below provided by the City of Spokane also mentions understanding the one-time impact of these vehicles is only half the story; there is also the cumulative impact, the overall impact must consider the number of times these vehicles use the streets during the pavement analysis period and that buses account for THE most significant loading on the city’s streets:
In addition, while passenger rail has fixed costs like stations, investing in passenger rail by increasing train frequencies will increase revenues and decrease the subsidy per passenger for trains:
Increasing the amount of bus traffic, however, will only increase road costs because of the cumulative impact of heavy vehicle traffic on roads.
Case #3, Subsidies per Passenger for Automobiles – $109:
One of the last great myths to bite the dust is the claim that road costs are covered by fuel taxes.
The fact is, about 50% of road spending, or more than $13 billion per year, is not covered by fuel taxes:
Furthermore, municipal residents pay a disproportionate share of taxes to subsidize rural roads:
The cost of annual maintenance work on the Dempster highway Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk extension is $1.8 million per year:
The Dempster highway average daily traffic count is less than 50 cars per day (or approximately 15000/year):
The average commuting vehicle occupancy is 1.1 persons/car:
The subsidy per passenger for the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway therefore is $109.10 per passenger.
($1.8 million per year / (15000 trips per year x 1.1 persons/car))
Not to mention the 13 billion dollars per year in general tax revenues spent on roads make VIA’s meager operating grant pale in comparison.
Case #4, Subsidies per Passenger for Marine Transport – $482:
Marine Transport is subsidized up to $482 per passenger: http://www.capebretonpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/2015-02-09/article-4037768/Atlantic-Canadian-ferry-subsidies-mind-boggling/1
In fact total Government Spending on Marine Transport is $1.3 billion per year as per the following report:
When was the last time you took a ship from Toronto to Thunder Bay?

Reason #2: Many communities along the train’s route have no reasonable public transportation alternative:

The recommendation to eliminate the Canadian’s operating grant completely ignores the transportation needs of the many communities along the line that have no reasonable public transportation alternative, as well as those unable to fly or sit on a cramped bus for days because of medical conditions – these people have as much right to public transportation as airline passengers which benefit from airfare reduction subsidies & bus passengers which benefit from road subsidies.
In fact, Transport Action Canada has revealed that the recommendation to cut funding to the Canadian ignores the fact that the Canadian’s Capreol-Winnipeg run of 1498 km is a mandated remote essential service:

Reason #3: The train’s unique ability to operate safely in all types of weather conditions makes it a truly essential service:

Trains can operate safely in inclement weather that can both snarl and jeopardize road and air transport. Rail is inherently one of the safest and most reliable modes of transport.
In fact when the Northeast U.S. Storm of 2016 hit, thousands of flights were cancelled while Amtrak was still running:
The U.S. is investing in rail while here in Canada our politicians want to replace trains with cars & buses on icy roads.

Reason #4: Unlike Flights, Trains have the ability to serve Multiple Cities on One Route:

As indicated in the following report, unlike flights, trains have the ability to serve multiple cities on one route:
A flight from Toronto to Vancouver only serves the two endpoint cities. VIA’s Canadian, by contrast, serves over 30 intermediate stops, or 500 city pairs, on one route, vastly improving public mobility, and making the train a far more efficient user of resources than air travel.
Also the following report proves that nearly 90% of rail passengers do not travel from endpoint to endpoint but from endpoint to intermediate terminal, or between intermediate terminals. Any further cuts to VIA Rail’s meager budget will result in nothing but massive curtailment of service leaving thousands of passengers stranded. http://www.narprail.org/site/assets/files/1036/nationalnetwork.pdf

Reason #5: Train passengers would not travel at all if the train were not available:

One glaring deficiency in the Government report mentioned above is that it does not mention induced travel – trips made which would not have been made at all if the train service was not available. The following report states that on Amtrak’s Empire Builder which runs on a route with comparable demographics as VIA’s Canadian, fully 21 percent of passengers would not have completed the trip if the train were not available: https://www.mdt.mt.gov/publications/docs/brochures/railways/empire_builder.pdf
The loss of passenger rail service will surely result in a huge loss of tourism dollars to Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta & British Columbia with many tourists having come from the U.S. & abroad specifically because of the train service.
This very situation has happened with the loss of the Algoma Central passenger service. As per the comments below found in the link to the petition given on the captrains website http://captrains.ca/ :
“I’ll never visit northern Ontario (and spend money there) unless I can take a train there.
James Zumwalt, Seattle, WA”

And as per http://wawa-news.com/2014/01/31/algoma-central-railway-a-part-of-our-heritage/comment-page-1/
“As an American tourist, 10 years ago, I rode the ONR Northlander overnight to Cochrane, the connecting van service to Hearst with a quick breakfast stop at The Kap, stayed overnight, and rode the ACR local down to the Sault. It goes without saying you would have gotten exactly Zero dollars of my tourist money without those trains.
Joe Versaggi”

Reason #6: Passenger Rail produces Net Economic Benefits:

Most economists understand the concept of externalities, and that an improved passenger rail service offers considerable savings to the public due to reduced highway fatalities and cleaner air, and induced economic development, as the following report entitled “IT’S THE EXTERNALITIES, STUPID” from the National Association of Railroad Passengers clearly states: http://www.narprail.org/news/blog/its-the-externalities-stupid/
As an example, in exchange for an $8 million annual investment in operating subsidies, more than $15 million of annual economic activities (business sales) can be attributed to Amtrak’s Downeaster rail service, according to the following reports:

Reason #7: Having a national, interconnecting passenger rail network generates greater revenues & ridership than a smaller, disconnected, piecemeal network:

The following report from the National Association of Railroad Passengers states that connecting passengers on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief (to use a U.S. example) generated 89% more revenue than this route would have if operated as an isolated, stand alone corridor: http://www.onerail.org/sites/default/files/documents/studies-and-reports/narp-white-paper.pdf

Reason #8: No funding means no service:

All forms of transportation require government spending.
And in all forms of transportation, half of the infrastructure-operations relationship is government funded & the other half is privatized.
For roads, the infrastructure (i.e. the below the wheel costs-the roads) is subsidized. The operations (the above the road costs-the cars) are privately funded by the car owners.
For rail, the infrastructure (i.e. the below-the-wheel costs-the rails) is privatized. The operations (the above the rail costs – the locomotive & rolling stock operations) is subsidized.
There is no reason why passenger rail should be the only mode that recovers all of its costs, or expected to be 100% privately funded.

Expecting rail to be 100% privately funded is an Unfair double-standard intended only to shut down the railroad.
No funding means no service. This goes for trains as well as all other modes of transport.
(Reference: http://allaboardohio.org/2012/09/21/road-air-subsidies-huge-growing-safe-amtraks-are-small-shrinking-attacked/)


It’s too bad Canadian rail advocates constantly have to respond to ridiculous attacks on VIA by anti-rail politicians & lobbyists in parliament & the media.

The Rocky Mountaineer Tour Train mentioned in the Federal Government Report cannot be considered public transportation any more than a cruise ship or the roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland could be considered public transportation.

Unlike Rocky Mountaineer’s seasonal & regional tour train, VIA provides an essential year-round transportation link to towns & cities across Canada.

In the U.S. the legislation spelling out Amtrak’s right’s & obligations, the investments in new rolling stock, and the record breaking ridership that Amtrak has been experiencing in the past 10 out of 11 years is proof that U.S. rail passengers and Americans as a whole are benefiting from a far more forward-thinking political leadership than exists in this country: http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/passenger/intercity/amtraks-new-wheels-hit-the-rails.html

With passenger rail receiving such a small portion of the government spending given to other modes, in no way can funding cuts to VIA be considered a serious deficit reduction measure.

Passenger trains provide an essential & reliable year-round transportation link to towns & cities across Canada, providing a valuable service to the millions of people who use them every year at a fraction of the government spending given to roads, and with the ability to serve far more city pairs than air ever could.

It’s time to stop focusing on the flea instead of the elephant and give passenger rail the amount of public investment that truly reflects its utility.
(Ref: http://allaboardohio.org/2012/09/21/road-air-subsidies-huge-growing-safe-amtraks-are-small-shrinking-attacked/)



Government report recommends eliminating operating grants for VIA Rail’s “Canadian” Train which runs from Toronto to Vancouver:

The recommendation on page 181 of the report below to eliminate funding for the Toronto-Vancouver rail service is discriminatory towards persons with disabilities, and would cause particular harm to those who, for medical reasons, are unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/ctareview2014/CTAR_Vol1_EN.pdf

These people are protected by law under The Canadian Human Rights Act which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities:


A similar situation has happened in the United States where delays & cancellations caused by oil traffic on Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder route caused undue hardship to medical travelers: https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/oil-trains-blamed-for-slowing-amtraks-empire-builder-020414.html


As the Transport Action Canada post below states: “The recommendation to cut funding to the Canadian ignores the fact that the Canadian’s Capreol-Winnipeg run of 1498 km is a mandated remote essential service“. The recommendation to cut funding would leave passengers stranded in many communities along the line with no reasonable public transportation alternatives.


Some people have medical conditions making flying, or sitting in a cramped bus seat for days, potentially dangerous. Any cessation of VIA service west of Toronto would adversely affect the mobility of persons who – for medical conditions – are unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat.

The train by contrast offers spacious accommodations – even in economy class with roomy seats with leg rests & a generous recline, not to mention the accessible rooms available on VIA’s Canadian.

Also the concerns about lower oxygen levels in a plane which can affect persons with heart or lung disease, such as flying with uncontrolled hypertension which could prove fatal, as well as the sitting in one spot for hours which can affect persons with arthritis or more serious conditions like deep vein thrombosis, do not apply to rail travelers at ground level with the room to walk around while onboard:  http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/us/en/travel-information/your-health/flying-your-health.html


Furthermore, long distance trains provide spacious coach & sleeping accommodations, while the buses’ lack thereof can leave long distance bus travelers prone to sleep deprivation, which can lead to a higher risk of health problems. For people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke: http://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body

In addition, having to sit for days in a bus seat can be painful and have negative effects on persons with arthritis: http://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/workplace#1

Maintaining funding for VIA’s Toronto-Vancouver train which serves over 30 intermediate stops, or over 500 city-pair combinations, would ensure that disabled persons unable to fly or sit for days in a bus seat can continue to enjoy the same mobility benefits enjoyed by all other Canadians. These people have as much right to public transportation as anyone else, including airline & bus passengers who benefit from government subsidies to roads & air transport which are far in excess of the meager funding given to passenger rail (page 7&8 of following report): http://www.comt.ca/english/statistics.pdf


In response to  National Dream Renewed’s  recent post on the Hyperloop:

There’s a reason (several actually) why no one in government has approved   Musk’s half-baked  hyperloop scheme:

From  http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/19848/musks-hyperloop-math-doesnt-add-up

“Musk’s proposal won’t actually get riders to the downtowns of Los Angeles or San Francisco. It can only carry around 10% of the capacity  of the California High-Speed Rail. Additionally, it will  bypass  other population centers, like Bakersfield, Fresno, and San Jose.”

“The California High-Speed Rail will whisk passengers from Los Angeles Union Station to the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco in  2 hours and 48 minutes .”

“But the Hyperloop won’t start in Los Angeles, and it won’t end in San Francisco. Instead, it’s proposed to start in Sylmar,  38 minutes north of Los Angeles Union Station  aboard the Metrolink commuter train. That means it takes longer to get to the Hyperloop from downtown LA than it would take to go to San Francisco.”

“Musk argues that the Hyperloop is cheaper than HSR because it’s elevated, saving on the cost of building at grade and reducing local opposition. But bridges are  far more  expensive than building tracks at grade.”

To me it looks like just another car manufacturer, albeit an electric one, trying to undermine a  viable high-speed rail  project that would benefit millions of people, one that would cost only a fraction of the roads and airports required to provide anywhere near the capacity that high-speed rail does.

Musk’s abomination is nothing more than an  airline running at ground level, and one without windows or washroom facilities at that, bypassing  & leaving towns stranded  & isolated that would have been served by high-speed rail.

This train traveler will never ride the hyperloop, should it ever be built. It’s  doubtful  the millions of Amtrak passengers who shun air travel in preference for the comfort  & service that only the train can provide would either.


In response to NARP’s post on Autonomous Vehicles (AV’s):

First off, AV’s will not solve the problem of congestion. Per page 22 of the following report: The heavily used four-track Lakeshore West railway line can carry the equivalent of one hour’s worth of the six-lane Gardiner Expresway– plus an additional 26 lanes of traffic:

Second, AV’s do not address the main reason so many of the younger generation are abandoning private vehicle ownership: the exorbitant and growing cost of owning a car. https://www.fastcompany.com/3025722/will-you-ever-be-able-to-afford-a-self-driving-car

Third, they will get stuck in winter weather just the same as a human driven car, all while trains are still running.

Fourth, they are nothing more than an attempt to make people more dependent on cars when transportation needs could be better served by rail transit, while doing little or nothing to reduce the dependence on foreign oil.

Fifth, AV’s still require massive government subsidies to maintain the roads & highways they run on, while Amtrak operates at a tiny fraction of the cost:
(Gas taxes do not even come close to covering the cost of roads)

There will never be a rubber tired substitute for a cohesive, scheduled, national passenger railway.


An Update on VIA Rail:

Good news!

On Oct 19 2015 Canada elected a new Prime Minister whose party platform includes a National Transportation Strategy that includes passenger rail: https://www.liberal.ca/policy-resolutions/1-priority-resolution-national-transportation-strategy/ And VIA Rail has since reinstated many services that were cut under the previous government: http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/2015/10/23/via-rail-reinstates-several-services

For an excellent report outlining the need for investment in VIA Rail prepared by staff at National Dream Renewed/On Track Strategies, please see the following link: http://ontario.transportaction.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/VIA-1-4-10-Plan-V2-2016-02-01.pdf 

In particular, the explanation of the need to invest in new rolling stock like the bi-level cars used by Amtrak (which have further lowered operating costs and increased capacity resulting in the constant revenue & ridership growth that Amtrak has been experiencing) hits the nail right on the head. As does the mention of the need for legislation protecting VIA and giving it a clear mandate, along with reliable funding, as well as the need for increased train frequencies which would further enhance the operating efficiency & economics of our passenger rail system.

I would encourage those who support passenger rail to email their MP’s urging them to read & recommend the proposals given in the above report as its recommendation for investment in VIA is consistent with the new Federal Liberal Government’s National Transportation Strategy which includes passenger rail.

For more info on the advantages of train travel please see my Why Choose the Train? page at this link. http://northamericabyrail.info/why-choose-the-train/ .


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