Canadian Trip Booked

Discussion of Canadian Passenger Rail Services such as AMT (Montreal), Go Transit (Toronto), VIA Rail, and other Canadian Railways and Transit

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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby electricron » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:25 pm

When British Columbia joined the Confederation, amongst the clauses requires regular train services to eastern Canada; the CP railway was built under a charter to meet those obligations. Although I'm not sure if passengers train services was a specific requirement or not. Never-the-less, eliminating the Canadian entirely will not be looked upon favorably in Western Canada, although most today will prefer to fly than take the train all the way across Canada. Since there are no clauses in the Confederation papers mentioning airline flights, so the railroads live on.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby vermontanan » Tue Nov 28, 2017 11:45 pm

NS VIA FAN wrote: I have yet to feel like I wanted to bail mid-trip on the Canadian (or any VIA train) like I have on the CZ and Empire Builder (if alternate transportation had been available in Havre MT....I probably would have!) And it was all due to the crew: Passengers caught in the middle of a dining car crew dispute and a very militaristic conductor. (Amtrak should get rid of their conductors as VIA did and have customer orientated Service Managers who know how to deal with the public instead of being on some ego trip)


This, of course, is meaningless because it is anecdotal. Mike Shafer, the editor of Passenger Train Journal took a circle trip from Chicago to Seattle on the Empire Builder, Cascades train to Vancouver, BC, Canadian to Toronto, Maple Leaf to Buffalo, and Lake Shore Limited back to Chicago in 2015. He rated the Empire Builder the best part of the trip due the crew. Another equally meaningless anecdote to be sure, but proof that anecdotes work both ways.

What isn't anecdotal is the abysmal on-time performance of the Canadian, and that the train has lost its utility. Again, when the time comes, as it most surely will, to pull the plug, I don't think "because the crews are nicer than on Amtrak" will be good enough to save it.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby vermontanan » Wed Nov 29, 2017 12:15 am

Tadman wrote:What I don't understand is all the complaints on the internet about "this train is always so late into Toronto and I didn't like that". Obviously nobody is riding this as timely transport, so why complain? Via clearly states it will be late and not to have same-day connections. How can one complain about a hazard they've clearly been warned about?


"mdvle"'s excellent points notwithstanding: No, it's not obvious that nobody is riding the Canadian as "timely transport" and I specifically challenge you to prove this. The route between Winnipeg and Sudbury was specifically chosen to serve an area with few or no other transportation alternatives (something I don't really buy since the train is so fantastically unreliable), so there is at least the expectation of a modicum of reliability or it wouldn't be operating the way it does.

VIA trains can be tracked on line, and this is the progress of train 2-24, currently 16.5 hours late inbound at Toronto: http://reservia.viarail.ca/tsi/GetTrain ... 2017-11-24
VIA updates the time for the major stations along the way, and it always showing the train making up a substantial amount of time (indeed, train 1 is some 14 hours slower than in 1997, and train 2 is 10 hours pokier than 20 years ago), and it gives the following notice, "Travel advisory: A late train may make up for lost time and arrive earlier than expected. VIA recommends that you arrive at the station in advance of the estimated time when there is a delay."

So, in other words, VIA has no idea when the Canadian will be anywhere. Really. If it loses time, it can't predict how much as CN treats the train "like it isn't there" but if there by chance is nothing to delay it, it can make up a lot of time in a hurry because there is such an extraordinary amount of fat in the schedule. So, this "warning" offsets the "hazard" (as Tadman puts it) that the train will be late and everyone should be OK with it. But I wonder how that works in reality. It's one thing to enjoy the ambiance of the Canadian and the scenery along the route, but not everyone is an ardent train rider, and one would think that on a schedule that averages only 33 MPH as it is and where 8 to 12 hours of additional time is consumed (late operation), that many would indeed tire of sitting at the same wheatfield in Saskatchewan or the same rocks and trees in Northern Ontario for extended periods of time. Hence, that could be part of the reason for these negative reviews.

And it should also be noted that Tadman "knows not of what he speaks" as he bailed in Edmonton.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby NS VIA FAN » Wed Nov 29, 2017 6:06 am

vermontanan wrote:
This, of course, is meaningless because it is anecdotal....... .


Anecdotal ?.....Yes, perhaps if I was the only one making these comments but far from it! Check out what others are saying on here and elsewhere such as ‘TrainOrders’, “Amtrak Unlimited”, in magazines and travel trade web sites and publications!

I have no problem with the Empire Builder’s equipment or schedule but it’s the front line people I have to deal with that can make or break a trip and in Amtrak’s regard…..the attitude and service offered is sorely lacking compared to what I find on the Canadian and VIA in general!

Yes the Canadian does run late but what would you rather if you had to be in this situation? I think I would go with the comfort, service and amenities on VIA….not Amtrak!
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby NS VIA FAN » Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:50 pm

Putting the anecdotal thing aside.....

The Empire Builder is fine as basic transportation. Would I ride it again? Maybe....... But a ride on the Canadian is an experience. I'll definitely be back and it all has to do with the crew and service.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby Backshophoss » Wed Nov 29, 2017 7:54 pm

Most of CN's Transconn mainline is single track,if a freight is too long for a certain passing siding,then the Canadian winds up taking the siding,
to let the freight pass by on the main. The Canadian is marketed as a "cruise" train to tourists outside of Canada.
While the Canadian is the only "connecting" service to some of the train services to the "frontier" towns/cities,you wind up with an over night layover
at the connecting town to that destination.
Most of VIA's power is equipped for GPS tracking,however the GPS is not used on the Canadian,at present it's based on the last reported station to
VIA ops in Toronto.
While there are some limits for GPS tracking in the mountains,it should work over 80-90% of the Canadian's route.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby vermontanan » Wed Nov 29, 2017 10:39 pm

electricron wrote:When British Columbia joined the Confederation, amongst the clauses requires regular train services to eastern Canada; the CP railway was built under a charter to meet those obligations. Although I'm not sure if passengers train services was a specific requirement or not. Never-the-less, eliminating the Canadian entirely will not be looked upon favorably in Western Canada, although most today will prefer to fly than take the train all the way across Canada. Since there are no clauses in the Confederation papers mentioning airline flights, so the railroads live on.


I don't think this has been challenged in court, but it probably is of little consequence. First of all, the present routing is an all-CN one (that is if you don't consider its trek on CP in British Columbia and Ontario due to paired track with CN), so, so much for a passenger train on CP. And whether anything like this needs to continue in perpetuity was answered when the Crow Freight Rate was ended. In exchange for the CP receiving a grant from the government of Canada in order to build a railroad through Lethbridge, Alberta over Crowsnest Pass into the Kootenay region of British Columbia (and thwart the Great Northern which was more than willing to step in and do it), it would haul farm products and farm machinery at a much reduced rate "forever." Since the railroad couldn't make any money hauling these products, and that it skewed what crops were grown and where, it became an untenable situation. Therefore, "Forever" ended in 1995.

Given what the Canadian has evolved into today - a tourist train with minimal utility to on line communities - it probably is already violating the intent of the charter as it is. I'm sure when the time comes to propose discontinuance for the train altogether due to the mounting expense, lack of utility, and unreliability, there will be some who point to this aspect of the CP charter as a last ditch effort to save it, but this line of thinking will garner little merit when the question is asked, "Why didn't you point this out years ago as the "Canadian" transitioned from an actual usable form of public transportation to the utility-free entity it is today?" And then the train will be gone.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby vermontanan » Wed Nov 29, 2017 10:51 pm

NS VIA FAN wrote:

Anecdotal ?.....Yes, perhaps if I was the only one making these comments but far from it! Check out what others are saying on here and elsewhere such as ‘TrainOrders’, “Amtrak Unlimited”, in magazines and travel trade web sites and publications!



Yes, check them out, please. Tripadvisor is laden with complaints about the Canadian (mostly due to late operation), but also about price for what is delivered.

As for anecdotes, I took the Empire Builder from Portland, Oregon to St. Paul, Minnesota in September. The train arrived early both trips. The on board personnel were just fine - especially my sleeping car attendant - and the operating crews were professional over the PA system. Otherwise, I didn't notice them. But, had I been 8 to 12 hours late, a commonplace occurrence with the Canadian, this would have really really screwed up my plan on both ends of the trip, both timewise and monetarily.

The Empire Builder's endpoint on-time performance in September was 90 percent. I'm pretty sure the Canadian's was zero, an untenable situation however you look at it. November 28's VIA train 1 departed 16 hours late. I can't even imagine how much it cost for the passengers to spend an extra night in a hotel in Toronto (whether VIA paid for it or not) and change travel plans down the line. I bet someone is holding hotel reservations in places like Jasper or Vancouver already fidgeting over whether to cancel or keep them, not knowing if the train will arrive on time (within the realm of possibility) or into the following day. And all the smiles and gourmet meals in the world won't remove that feeling uneasiness to the affected.....
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby vermontanan » Wed Nov 29, 2017 11:07 pm

NS VIA FAN wrote:The Empire Builder is fine as basic transportation. Would I ride it again? Maybe....... But a ride on the Canadian is an experience. I'll definitely be back and it all has to do with the crew and service.


As an American taxpayer, I don't mind that my taxes allow the Empire Builder to exist, and especially as basic transportation because historically and currently, that's what a real passenger train should be. But the riding the Empire Builder can provide an "experience" equal to the Canadian - one just must know what to look for. One especially memorable trip I made was in 2013, during the height of the Bakken Oil Boom in Northwest North Dakota. The train was known as the "Bakken Streetcar" by many as it moved people from Montana and Minnesota to places like Minot, Stanley, and Williston due to the availability of jobs in North Dakota, and the lack of them where they had currently resided. Like the California or Yukon gold rushes, the situation in North Dakota was none other than a modern day version. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with people traveling to and from this area (especially easy to do in the dining car) because I learned so much about the "why" of the boom and what made people tick. In addition, there were people coming back from the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, going to Whitefish, Montana to ski, and even some people going to Cardston, Alberta detraining in Cut Bank, Montana! (Canadians, due to proximity, frequently use the Empire Builder.) In my opinion, this was a real American experience. And, it was a great reminder that passenger trains are not about dome cars and being "Prestigious", they're about people.

And to NS VIA FAN: Since you're probably a Canadian taxpayer, are you OK with the role today's Canadian plays, and if so why? And again, when its time comes for its discontinuance, what will your argument be for retaining it?
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby Backshophoss » Wed Nov 29, 2017 11:16 pm

VIA never had a chance with CN with EHH at the helm,Hopefully the change of the leadership at CN along with "hints" from Ottawa
might improve the Canadian's OT performance, so it's not a lost cause,and getting the GPS tracking online will help.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby bdawe » Thu Nov 30, 2017 1:57 am

Firstly, the Canadian Transcons were never very fast. The back-in-the-day schedules for the Canadian & the Super Continental were only about 40 mph on average. Even where, say, the CP could make a reasonably fast 60 mph average across the prairies the slow wind through hundreds of miles of Rocky Mountains, Fraser Canyon & Canadian Shield have meant a distinct lack of utility since the completion of all-weather roads through these regions (something that could be surprisingly late in Canada, where the highway system was never ladled with nearly the completism of the Interstate System. I recall a '50s road atlas suggesting that winter-month travelers ship their cars by rail over Rogers Pass since the more-circuitous big bend highway hadn't been paved). There isn't a practically-fast level of service that's ever existed since those days.

But more over, there just haven't been any ideologues calling for VIA to be shut down or it's very high operating costs to be dealt with with any traction. VIA lacks much of a public constituency, but it also lacks for public opponents.

So things like how the Canadian loses great gobs of money shuttling high-rolling tourists around in no particular hurry mostly slip under the radar.
B. Dawe's map of routes and urban populations https://brendandawe.carto.com/viz/80b9d ... /embed_map NOW updated with 2016 Canadian Populations
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby electricron » Thu Nov 30, 2017 3:08 am

Of course it slips under the radar. Does the yearly subsidies ever see a glint of light?
Here's a headline from a recent news article:
"Via Rail boosts ridership, cuts operating loss by 12 per cent"
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report- ... e29913520/
But dig a little deeper into the story, here's some interesting facts that don't jive....

"Via Rail's ridership rose in 2015, helping Canada's national passenger train service cut its annual operating loss by 12 per cent to $280-million.
The Crown corporation said passenger-miles rose by 1.7 per cent last year and revenue climbed by 6 per cent, the first time in seven years both categories have increased.
Total government funding declined to $378-million while on-time performance fell to 71 per cent from 76 per cent, a deterioration Via Rail blamed on the freight railways that own the tracks."

Their operating losses was $280 million, but the Canadian government funded VIA $378 million in total. So obviously VIA spent $98 million on some capital projects. Did VIA buy any new rolling stock in 2015? No, they're still using existing equipment. So where did VIA spend that extra $98 million on? It looks like created accounting imho....

Some more facts that don't make sense at all.
"Taxpayer subsidies for every Via Rail passenger were $73 in 2015, compared with $83 in 2014. The subsidies are lowest – $42 – in the Southern Ontario and Quebec corridor. Long-haul subsidies were almost $500 per passenger while regional services were subsidized at $607, Via Rail said in its annual report released on Friday."

Isn't corridor services the same as regional services? Maybe VIA defines regional services differently than Amtrak?

How does that compare to Amtrak 2015 data?
https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0249
In 2015, Amtrak received a total of $1,390 million for both capital expenses and operating subsidies. One has to dig through Amtrak's many reports to find subsidy data. For example
http://media.amtrak.com/wp-content/uplo ... -edits.pdf

In 2015, using this line....
"Amtrak covered nearly 94 percent of operating costs in FY 2016 with ticket sales, payments from state partners and agencies and other revenue – up from 92 percent the year before."

Which means in 2015 revenues paid 92% of the operating costs. Revenues in 2015 totaled $2.185 billion. Some math is required to arrive at the subsidy.
$2.185 billion x 0.92 = $2.010 billion (operating costs)
2.185 - 2.010 = $0.175 billion or $175 million (subsidy)
2015 ridership was 30.882 million passengers.
Therefore subsidy per passenger in 2015 was $175 million / 30.882 million = $5.66 per passenger. Note: this doesn't include grants for Amtrak's capital expenses which was easily over $1 billion in 2015. Keeping the math simple, and just adding an additional billion to the $175 billion, the total deficit would be $1.175 billion. So the total deficit per passenger would have been $1.175 billion / 30.882 million passengers = $38.05 per passenger.

Having to dig through the public papers and doing the math isn't putting your bad foot forward into the light of day. Which is why deficits and operating subsidies do not make many people's radar, in both Canada and the USA.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby marquisofmississauga » Thu Nov 30, 2017 8:43 am

I won't comment on the comparisons between VIA and Amtrak simply because the USA is a smaller country than Canada yet has nine times the population. I am only concerned about VIA.

Information in VIA's annual reports shows that the financial position of the Canadian improved considerably between 2014 and 2016. Here are a few excerpts:
2014: passengers carried - 93,810, loss - $55,463,000, subsidy per passenger - $591.23.
2015: passengers carried - 89,725, loss - $47,347,000, subsidy per passenger - $527.69.
2016: passengers carried - 93,193, loss - $40,419,000, subsidy per passenger - $464.56.

It is apparent that the improvement in the annual loss is due to the high-fare Prestige service and also the gradual reduction in huge discounts such as the once-frequent 50% sales and the Tuesday specials which often offered up to 75% off. These sleeper deals offer a much smaller discount and are mainly available in berths and only rarely in cabins. What has surprised me is the number of sleeping car passengers carried in the off-peak season, most of whom expect to be late and don't seem to mind. On my recent trip there were 60 in sleepers departing Vancouver. Admittedly this load was reduced after Jasper, but picked up somewhat at Winnipeg (yes, in the middle of the night!) I have made a few trips in late November about 15 years ago when there have been as few as 15 in sleepers.

I have made four trips from Vancouver to Toronto since Prestige service started. On the three in the month of November there wasn't a single Prestige passenger. There were, however, several Prestige rooms booked for the return from Toronto to Vancouver. On the one trip I made in the month of June the Prestige section was full. A head-office manager I met on board indicated that Prestige costs relatively little to provide considering the fare charged, so at $10,000 a room in peak season it is beneficial in reducing the losses. The cost of rebuilding the eight Château sleepers and four Park cars was paid for by some of the "stimulus infrastructure" money the federal government provided to VIA so that expense did not show in the annual reports.

Despite the recent reduction in the losses, I don't see much room for further improvement. There is a limit to how high the fares can be. Even if I had $10,000 to spend on a train trip I could get much better value on holiday. The cost of all those hotel rooms in Toronto - and sometimes Jasper and perhaps other places - has to be accounted for somewhere.
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby Tadman » Thu Nov 30, 2017 11:47 am

Those trip advisor complaints are idiotic. They are made with absolutely no perspective, and mostly by people that were warned of a problem that might occur, then it occurred, and they are angry. ooookaaayyyyy....

1. The price is high relative to what? A cruise? The Rocky Mountaineer? Driving the country and staying in a hotel every night, plus gas, mileage, et...? The price is perfectly reasonable when compared to alternatives. Also, there's coach if you're on a budget.

2. The timing complaints are even more myopic. I travel LOTS for work and pleasure. I would never schedule a non-guaranteed connection in the same day as a long flight (I.E. more than 4 hours) or overnight train train. There is just too much that can go wrong. VIA is actually very up front about this, versus Amtrak, which doesn't tell you that that trains hosted by UP or CSX can be 8+ hours late (my last Silver Star was 22 hours late, think I made that connection?), or the foreign airlines that neglect to tell you their pilots are about to go on strike, and how do you get back to the USA?

It's common sense not to schedule a same day connection, and it's written in black and white, and still people complain?
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Re: Canadian Trip Booked

Postby Tadman » Thu Nov 30, 2017 11:56 am

vermontanan wrote:
Tadman wrote:What I don't understand is all the complaints on the internet about "this train is always so late into Toronto and I didn't like that". Obviously nobody is riding this as timely transport, so why complain? Via clearly states it will be late and not to have same-day connections. How can one complain about a hazard they've clearly been warned about?


"mdvle"'s excellent points notwithstanding: No, it's not obvious that nobody is riding the Canadian as "timely transport" and I specifically challenge you to prove this.


I mean, look at the consist. It's 2-3 coaches and 20 sleepers sold at prices 50-100% higher than Amtrak sleepers. This is a tourist train. Look at Westjet, they can get you to Toronto or Vancouver in a few hours, not a few days. Buy a ticket and look at the riders. I did it in the off season and they were still mostly tourists, half were from foreign countries. I met Americans, Brits, French, Aussies... That's not a very hard challenge.


vermontanan wrote:And it should also be noted that Tadman "knows not of what he speaks" as he bailed in Edmonton.


This may come as a shock, but one does not necessarily need primary knowledge to make an assertion. I travel every week. I'm platinum on two airlines and "select-whatever" on Amtrak. I connect between trains and planes on a weekly basis, and have done it in perhaps 10 countries. I do business with the railroads in at least three countries plus GE Transportation. I have a pretty good feel for what's going on here despite bailing in Edmonton.
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