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

Moderator: Ken V

  by Ken V
Don Pevsner wrote: It's about time that VIA fans knew WHY there has been no transcon service on the far-more-scenic CPR routing since January 15,1990:

(1)When VIA privatized the "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER" in late 1989, it gave Peter Armstrong of The Great Canadian Railtour Company a SECRET nine-year non-compete clause between Calgary and Kamloops. This was done in two increments: (a)Initial five-year clause, followed by (b)Additional four-year extension to avoid a lawsuit by GCRT on the grounds of overestimating ridership at the time of transfer.
The existence of this clause--which expired in 1999-- was never disclosed to the public: a very shameful way to treat essential Canadian railroad tradition and history.

(2)During this 9-year period, Peter Armstrong used his political (right-wing) contacts in B.C. and Alberta to make sure that any future attempts by VIA to restore competition on the CPR route west of Calgary would go down to defeat politically. A "dry run" was held first, over VIA's plan to increase frequency from Vancouver to Jasper from the present 3 x week schedule. Armstrong won this one handily. In particular, because he brings thousands of overnight visitors to Kamloops, that city is totally on his side.

(3)When Renaissance equipment replaces the classic CPR Budd equipment on the "OCEAN" and northern Quebec trains, there should be ample cars to run "THE CANADIAN" over both the CPR and CNR routings once more.

(4)It is horrendous that Canadians in particular have been priced-out of seeing the scenic beauties along the CPR route by the greedy Mr. Armstrong, whose passengers are now mostly old, rich Texans and Californians. It costs about USD 950 to ride an Armstrong dome for the 642 miles between Calgary and Vancouver. It costs only about USD 650 to ride a sleeper on "THE CANADIAN" all the way from Toronto to Vancouver (2,776 miles), and VIA makes a nice profit on "Silver & Blue" Class.
In order to see the north shore of Lake Superior, it costs about USD 5,000 (!) to ride the "American Orient Express" from Vancouver to Montreal (and it uses the inferior CNR routing to Winnipeg, too).

(5)Peter Armstrong likes to rant about the desirability of "free markets", but he also has devoted a lot of ruthless business attention to maintaining his own Kamloops-Calgary monopoly. He cannot (and should not) have it both ways.

(6)It's time for VIA and David Collenette to belatedly serve the public, by putting "THE CANADIAN" back onto CPR between Sudbury and Kamloops. This would free-up the RDC's to run Capreol-Hornepayne or Sioux Lookout. Further, there should be no reason why VIA #1/2 cannot run on the CPRroute 3-4 days a week and on the CNR route the other 3-4 days, at a minimum. If this is done, the costly RDC's won't be needed for remote Ontario service at all, and might well be used more profitablyelsewhere (having already been overhauled).

(7)I'd like to see TRANSPORT 2000 be a good deal stronger in this fight, to counter Peter Armstrong's effective and forceful methods of getting exactly what he wants, while shafting the general public in order to line his own pockets.

Posted 12/1/2002 6:57:00 AM PST

Don in PA Member wrote: Wow! I always thought it had more to do with CN and VIA both being crown corporations and the exchange of trackage fees. Your information is quite enlightening!

Specific to your point four: I rode the Canadian this past April. Although I loved the ride, I know the scenery is far more dramatic between Calgary and Vancouver than from Jasper, and would rather have travelled the CPR route. While on the train there was a tour group with the type of folks you mentioned on board. I had dinner with their tour guide who, aside from being very attractive, was also very knowledgable. She indicated that the Rocky Mountaineer was in no way worth the money charged for it, but that the older folks really love it. She also said she'd shoot me if I told any of them that!

Your points are all well taken. I hope to see the Canadian back where it belongs and the Super Continental name revived for the CNR line service. It will certainly give me incentive to take another coast to coast ride again.

Posted 12/1/2002 7:45:00 AM PST

Ken_V Moderator wrote: Mr. Don Pevsner,

You make some strong statements without offering any other source of facts to back them up. While I cannot either prove or disprove your statements I feel you don't have the whole story.

It is true that the CPR route was discontinued by the same government that made an election promise to reinstate passenger service on the northern CN (Supercontinental) route. It is also true that it was, politically, a non-starter for VIA to increase frequencies between Jasper and Vancouver as it was seen as direct competetion between a government agency and a private operator. I have stated before that this is not direct competetion since the type of service is quite different - try taking the Rocky Mountaineer between Field and Revelstoke.

There has also been some "talk" that CP didn't want to host passenger trains and made it difficult for VIA by restricting speeds, demanding retention toilets, and increasing fees.

I would love to see the Canadian return to the CP north of Superior... I don't see how CGRC could possibly influence that route choice.

Posted 12/1/2002 6:23:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: The source of my information is Peter Armstrong himself. I wrote a hard-hitting Op-Ed for THE GLOBE AND MAIL about 7 years ago, and he called me to complain about it. We spoke for fully 45 minutes,during which time he disclosed all of the facts that I refer to above. He also alleges that any VIA efforts to restore "THE CANADIAN" to CPR rails between Calgary and Kamloops are due to a personal grudge against him by Cristina (sp?) Keon-Sirsly, chief VIA Marketing executive. REASON:
When Mr. Armstrong decided to bid on the "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER" in 1989, he was approached by none other than Ms. Keon-Sirsly and a male VIA colleague of hers to do so collectively. Instead, the swashbuckling Mr. Armstrong cut his two VIA "finders" out of the deal and did it without them. RESULT: They sued him in the Vancouver courts for breach of contract. I don't know how the litigation ever came out, but this sort of conflict-of-interest by Ms. Keon-Sirsly in particular (which continues to deny VIA "clean hands" in its ongoing turf battles with Mr. Armstrong) is anathema to the public interest. In my personal view, she and her colleague (if he is still at VIA) should have been fired for their actions years ago.

The problem with Canadian opponents of Mr. Armstrong is that they are far too polite and genteel in what passes for a "fight." He is a tough, take-no-prisoners businessman...and it is long-overdue that the gloves come off in any battle to restore "THE CANADIAN" to a CPR routing west of Calgary.

On the North Shore of Lake Superior, you may be correct that this is not Mr. Armstrong's doing. On the other hand, he told me back around 1995 that he would like to buy a privatized "CANADIAN" transcon as well. I don't trust this guy an inch...and neither should you, or ANY member of the Canadian traveling public.
Attorney-at-Law [pro bono publico]
FLORIDA TEL.: (321)449-0882

Posted 12/2/2002 5:30:00 AM PST

matthew_VIAfan Member wrote: Is there ever going to be a hope of the CP line seeing regularly scheduled passenger service again?


Posted 12/2/2002 7:05:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: TRAINS Magazine reports that David Collenette is in favor of restoring "THE CANADIAN" to a CPR routing. It will first be necessary to override Peter
Armstrong's lobbying and networking skills.

Posted 12/3/2002 7:40:00 AM PST

MikeCDN Member wrote: Mr. Pevsner:

Not only would the restoration of the Real Canadian benefit the western cities such as Kamloops, Calgary etc. it would also benefit more remote communities in Northern Ontario such as Dryden, Kenora and Thunder Bay ( I still maintain T. Bay is remote due its location ).

August, 2001 there was a freight derailment at Sioux Look Out. That meant our train got routed to the CPR line from Longlac ON. The view of Lake Superior at Thunder Bay was nothing short of spectacular. Regular users of the Canadian, including yours truly, all agreed it has far nicer scenery. The CPR route, which I believe, travels along side the Kam River and visits larger communities on Highway 17.

The funny thing about this little detour was the fact I was initially going to Dryden via Sioux Lookout. The staff kept appologizing to me and three other passengers getting off at S.L. as they they had to drop us at Dryden. My inconvenience was a three hour delay and a short walk! The rest of the passengers were, for the most part, pleasently surprised of the different scenery. A passenger rail guide describes the towns and scenery along the current Canadian as being boring, with desolate communities.

Via will increase its passenger loads if it uses the old CPR route through Northern Ontario alone. A lot of miners, forestry workers etc. would use it over the bus to get to and from work after they've finished their weekly rotations.

My two cents as a Northern Ontarian.


Posted 12/3/2002 2:40:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: Too bad you only hit Lake Superior coming from Longlac at Thunder Bay, on the freight-only CNR line. I, too, detoured on VIA #2 this way a few years ago. But the REALLY spectacular scenery begins after the CNR line from Thunder Bay to Longlac turns north: from Red Rocks to Heron Bay. The only way a tourist can ride this sector today is by spending USD 5,000 one-way to ride the "AMERICAN ORIENT EXPRESS" from Vancouver to Montreal, v.v.: usually two round-trips each summer.

Thunder Bay has more population by far than the entire CNR route from Capreol to just short of Winnipeg. It was--and is--an insane commercial act to restrict "THE CANADIAN" to a CNR routing since January 15,1990. But--per the above--no one at VIA has showed any commercial sense at all on this issue for nearly 13 years, apart from David Collenette's interview statement for TRAINS Magazine.

Posted 12/3/2002 5:47:00 PM PST

David,Mississauga Member wrote: It is indeed going to be an uphill battle for Via to restore service on the CPR route. As Don points out, Mr Armstrong is very well connected politically. Everyone at Via agreed that the "Rockies By Daylight" was Via's only profitable service. (The "Canadian" makes a profit in certain peak-season months, but overall it loses a bundle.) The Mulroney government forced Via to sell off the equipment (for a song) and hand the route over to the private sector. The Tories didn't want Via to succeed in any way. My local Tory MP told me that if they were re-elected in the next election there wouldn't be a train in the country within 10 years. He was proud of this and, as all Canadians know, the once mighty Conservative Party was reduced to two seats.

As Don points out, when Via attempted six-day-a-week servie on the Jasper-Vancouver route, Mr Armstrong got support from the Reform (later C.R.A.P. and now Alliance) Party. I entered into correspondence with their Transport critic, Mr Jim Gouk, who said, inter alia, that it was improper for the private sector to have to face competition from a Crown corporation. When I pointed out to him that the private CPR lost a lot of money on its passenger trains many years ago on account of massive government subsidies for air and road travel he said nothing further to me. Well, what could he say on the evidence?

Via isn't saying what their plans are for the displaced sleepers, domes and diners from the "Ocean" other than that they will be used in the west. Although there is much to be said in favour of the Renaissance equipment (I have travelled three times in sleepers on the "Enterprise'), its use in the maritimes will be a severe downgrading of the present service. Let's hope Via has some success in expanding service in the west. The "Canadian" can't get any longer than it now runs in the summer: generally a minimum of 22 cars, often 25 and occasionally even 30 cars.

Mississauga, Ont.

Posted 12/7/2002 2:08:00 PM PST

Ken_V Moderator wrote: David...Thanks for your insightful post. You make a number of good points.

I've often thought that, during the summer, at least, VIA should run the "transcontinental" more frequently. Obviously replacing a 25-30 car train with two 12-15 car trains would require additional crews and locomotives. I believe there would be enough of an increase in patronage to cover the costs.

Posted 12/7/2002 8:04:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: WHY is everyone in Canada apparently either boot-lickingly solicitous of greedy monopolist Peter Armstrong's Great Canadian Railtour Company, and/or willing to kowtow to him politically so that VIA RAIL cannot compete against him between Calgary and Kamloops on the CPR route? He has now deprived Canadians (as well as Americans who are not wealthy) of the opportunity to ride the CPR through the Rockies and Selkirks AFFORDABLY for almost thirteen (13) years. He is a self-professed "free-marketeer" who loves nothing better than an overpriced monopoly on the CPR west of Kamloops.
If your Canadian railroad/history enthusiasts had any elementary guts, instead of fatal and self-destructive politeness to this bandit, there would be a permanent picket-line around GCRT's headquarters in Pacific Central Terminal, Vancouver, and a lot of very relevant Canadian newspaper stories about the way Mr. Armstrong has hijacked essential Canadian tradition and history for a fast buck. Too bad Louis Riel isn't around in CY2003...or William Cornelius Van Horne.

Posted 12/22/2002 9:55:00 AM PST

viafan Member wrote: In reference to the message from david,mississauga above, I would like to know on what basis he makes the statement that service to the Maritimes will be severely downgraded. I have a very great fear of this happening and it would be a very major setback here as we have little else affordable public transportation. Airlines are definitely not affordable (or anything else) down this way!

Posted 12/22/2002 2:35:00 PM PST

Ken_V Moderator wrote: In some sense I applaud Peter Armstrong's entrepreneurship in making a good return from the Rocky Mountain Railtour Company. This demonstrates the "good" side of private enterprise.

Crushing perceived competetion shows the "bad" side.

The American Orient Express makes a good profit without replacing other services. There's money to be made in land cruises but, basic transportation needs are still there. There is room for both.

This is where the whole private enterprise thing falls apart in Canada. All those people who once rode the trains locally, like me, can now only watch them roll by.

Posted 12/22/2002 9:26:00 PM PST

viafan Member wrote: Given the size of this great country and the relatively small population spread from coast to coast, it is a "no-brainer" to argue that private enterprise will be able to profitably provide all the necessary services that we need. Even the "founder" of capitalism, Adam Smith, recognized that government has a role to play.

Private tour trains are great - for tourists who can afford the luxury. We still need affordable public transport across Canada for the average Canadian. Airlines certainly do not provide and busses are only satisfactory for very short hauls. I vote to have the southern line (CPR route) re-established once the equipment is freed up with the new Renaissance equipment in the east!

Posted 12/23/2002 4:26:00 AM PST

David,Mississauga Member wrote:
re: Renaissance Equipment

Viafan asked on what basis I made the statement that sevice to the Maritimes will be severely downgraded with the new Renaissance trains.

The present train is almost as good as the "Canadian." The coaches offer the long-distance type of reclining seats with lots of leg room. There are sleeping cars that offer the full range of accomodations: upper and lower berths, roomettes, double bedrooms, bedroom suites, Romance by Rail suites and (my favourite) drawing rooms. There is an elegant dining car with a chef in the kitchen. At the rear of the train is a Park car with a dome, an under-dome lounge and a rear-end lounge. Coach passengers also have a dome-lounge car.

The Renaissance train will offer coach seats that have limited leg room. The sleepers offer double bedrooms - yes, that's it. The planned dining car will not have a kitchen. Some kind of food will be heated up in the small galley of the adjacent service (lounge) car. There will be one small mid-train lounge for coach passengers and another for those in sleepers. There will be no rear-end lounge car and no dome.

I have travelled three times in sleeper on the overnight Toronto-Montreal "Enterprise." There are many fine attributes to this equipment. The coach seats, whilst lacking in leg room, are arranged in the European "2+1" arrangement. Six of the 10 bedrooms in each sleeper have a private shower in the toilet annex. Instead of two chairs, there is a sofa in each room. The cars ride extremely well on the Kingston sub.

Overall, I think most passengers will find the new train a considerable downgrading when compared with the present "Ocean." Many times on my trips east I have seen families of four taking an economical "section." The lower berth of a section is the widest bed presently available on a Canadian train (excepting the Romance by Rail suite.) According to Via's Web site, the Renaissance beds are four inches narrower than the beds in the rooms of the ex-CPR sleepers. It appears that passengers who normally travel in roomettes will have to pay the usual steep surcharge to have a double bedroom for single occupancy. In the latest Vialogue, Keith Moulton, Eastern Services Director, says in a rather convoluted way that "price sensitive" single passengers will be offered Comfort Plus (coach with some upgraded amenities) as there are no single rooms.

Most regular Via passengers I have talked to agree with me that, notwithstanding the positive features of the new equipment, the Renaissance-equipped "Ocean" will not be as good train as the present one.

Posted 12/23/2002 3:39:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: My above posting should read: "monopoly on the CPR routing EAST of Kamloops" (i.e., to Calgary).

Posted 12/23/2002 7:17:00 PM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: I rode VIA #2 from Vancouver to Toronto from 1/31-2/3/03. There was a grand total of 16 "Silver and Blue" passengers east of Jasper, in 3 Manor cars and the Park car. VIA needs to re-route this train to the CPR, and market the change properly.
Traffic on the CPR route always greatly exceeded the CNR route on VIA prior to the 1/15/90 Mulroney cutbacks.

Posted 2/7/2003 5:33:00 AM PST

David,Mississauga Member wrote: Via's winter business on the "Canadian" varies drastically. I took a trip to and from Jasper in early December. Out of Toronto there were about 100 Silver & Blue passengers in the seven Manor cars. (There were two tours from Britain.) Coming back there were only 15 in sleepers. One of the three Manor cars was out of service. This week I saw the "Canadian" in the yards twice whilst going to work on the GO train. On Tuesday there were seven Manor sleepers but only three on Thursday.

Posted 2/7/2003 6:59:00 PM PST

ghCBNS Member wrote: Only 16 Silver & Blue passengers? Consider yourself lucky! You had a great choice of dome seats. Guess you just hit it on an "off" day. In late January two years ago we were packed with several tour groups and it was a fight for seats. VIA and its partners do a great job in marketing this train. Check out:


Reroute the "Canadian"? I certainly agree VIA should have a train on the CP route thru Banff but not at the expense of the CN route. The "Canadian" I know (and thousands of others do to: with 25-30 car consists in the summer) is the one VIA re-launched in 1992 with the rebuilt cars and Silver & Blue service. It's now a well established train on the Jasper route where it has spent a quarter of its life if you consider the original Canadian was inaugurated in the mid `50s.

Posted 2/11/2003 9:02:00 AM PST

Don Pevsner wrote: I agree that the train should serve BOTH the CPR and CNR routes...probably 4xweek on the CPR and the present 3xweek on the CNR. There should be plenty of equipment once the 1954-55 Budd cars in the East are freed-up by the Renaissance equipment coming fully on-line.

Posted 2/12/2003 7:46:00 AM PST
briann Member wrote: I believe that the original reason given by the Conservatives' Minister of Transport for routing the Canadian over CN tracks in Northern Ontario was that the train should service those remote communities with little or no highway access. The CPR tracks served communities (like Thinder Bay etc.) which had relatively good highways. Scenery had nothing to do with it.

Posted 5/4/2003 4:38:00 PM PST
JP1822 Member wrote: There appears to be talk of re-establishing a some sort of VIA service between Kamloops and Calgary. I would think there would be enough equipment to handle it with the Renaissance cars coming online. I like the idea of expanding the Candian into a seven day a week schedule where it flip flops between the CPR and CN route. Even if they were to split the train in Winnipeg and run half of the train to Vancouver via Jasper and the other half to Vancouver via Banff/Calgary. It may appear to add competition to the Rocky Mountaineer, but each train should cater to a different passenger base.

Posted 5/8/2003 7:48:00 PM PST
  by Gilbert B Norman
I trust that by now all TRAINS readers around here have reviewed the Fred Frailey article regarding the future of 'Th/Le Canadia/en'.

From one who has ridden both CN and CP routes during 1965 - at the height of CN's passenger service initiative - no question whatever, CP has the superior scenic route. Apparently CP decided that there was a golden egg with their scenery and if a passenger train were to operate through such, the operator had best be prepared to pay and pay dearly. Rocky Mountaineer, which of course I've never ridden and not exactly full of desire to do so, was prepared to pay apparently confident that they either had or could develop a clientele prepared to pay Acela First Class rates for a 'gated community' travel experience.

Obviously, nothing has changed since Mr. Pevsner first originated this material. However I find nothing disgraceful about the Canadian being routed away from the CP - a party simply outbid them. There is no social obligation for VIA to operate over the CP; as with is existing bi or tri-weekly schedule - and its own sky high fares, VIA is not in the business of providing point A to B transportation over its Lines West.
  by jp1822
VIA also lost out on its bid to establish passenger service on the former BC Rail route between Prince George and North Vancouver. This would have actually provided a nice triangular service route in British Columbia between the Skeena, Canadian, and BC Rail route. This service would have actually provided service for the locals - and tourists. VIA had the ex-BC Panorama cars, and two other ex-BC lounge cars that could have helped to augment the route for locals and tourists alike.

But VIA lost out on the BC rail route to the tourist operation of Rocky Mountaineer. The real losers - the Canadian locals who actually did use this route.

I thought VIA would have it made when coupled with the fact they were looking to operate the Canadian six days a week to/from Jasper and Vancouver. Likewise, plans had the Skeena extending from Jasper to Edmonton in order to attract customers from a larger origination point (with airport).

But this was not to be either. VIA could have provided better connectivity - or same day connectivity - between the Skeena and Canadian (as was once in place) but this was not to be either.

And operating on an every other day to/from Winnipeg and Vancouver via Jasper or Calgary would likely have been a positive move. Any attendant who was around when the Canadian ran on the CPR west of Winnipeg has always commented to me this was by far the better routing for this train (and they were speaking in terms of ridership).

NOW - the Canadian frequency has been reduced, and the Skeena's future is largely uncertain....

As I have heard others in Canada say - and as I believe - VIA is on the road to a slow death. And has been.

Ride it while you can!
  by missthealcos
The way Via is treated in general is disgraceful. It is entirely political, and as much as it pains me to openly admit it, I too believe it is on it's way to a slow, politically driven death. Our Federal government in general is a bad joke to put it mildly, and has been for a long time. Complacency of the voter is the biggest problem in this country. Via is far from the only victim of this, the effects are wide reaching indeed.

As for the original collection of posts and reasons for this and that, they were, and are entirely correct. Reading it all again and being reminded makes the blood boil no less all these years later. Rocky Mountaineer, and it's band of seedy and amazing political clout has been wielding that power for over 20 years now. It was dead wrong then, and it's dead wrong now. Between them and the current gov't, it's actually amazing anything at all still exists of Via. The way things have unfolded is nothing short of a disgrace. The current Trains article is well done, and is one of the only times I have ever seen the RMR problem touched on properly, in any detail in the press. High time. I wouldn't be surprised if legal notice is already on the way to the author! It would be typical

In terms of Via's operations themselves, amazingly, despite all efforts from the top and outside, they still do the best with what they have. On another long distance trip this past October, lamenting the lack of CP routing as always aside, the trip was still spectacular. The service, employees, food, etc. is still stellar. They do the best they can in what is essentially a hostile environment. Everyone at Via, except of course those politically installed and working at cross-purposes, should be commended.

My wish: Daily service restored to 1989 levels, and at fares the average Canadian can afford to enjoy. (on that note, if one takes advantage of the numerous sales etc. it can be much more reasonable). My somewhat realistic wish: 3 days CN, 3-4 days CP. Realistic: that it survives at all.
  by Gilbert B Norman
VIA is considerably more opaque with its financial information than is Amtrak. The Frailey article makes no reference regarding whether VIA 'makes book' or otherwise puts more in the cookie jar than it takes out from operating the Canadian. With its bi and tri weekly frequency, its sky high base fares, and a schedule about the same as the predecessor roads' secondary trains, 'Continental Limited' and 'The Dominion', how could anyone consider it for point to point transportation?

Considering that tourism comprises far more of Canada's GNP than it does here in the US, the train is there for wealthy tourists. To what extent private operators have expressed an interest in taking over the operation, again the Frailey article does not address in any detail. That it remains government sponsored, and with an on-board service product reportedly superior to that of Amtrak, means that some group representing tourism interests has a friend in Ottawa.