VIA High Frequency Rail Project

Discussion in 'VIA Rail Canada Discussion' started by cbustrains, Jun 27, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Jun 27, 2019 #1

    cbustrains

    c

    cbustrains

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Messages:
    6
    Yesterday, there was a significant announcement in Canada that the Canada Infrastructure Bank is funding "pre-procurement" activities that will lay the groundwork for a possible public-private partnership to develop dedicated passenger rail service from Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal to Quebec City. The estimated cost is C$4B for a diesel propelled solution and C$6B for an electrified solution.

    Railway Age has a great article showing the details of this proposal, including the interesting interaction and connectivity with the Toronto and Montreal rail network. While not high speed rail, the proposed infrastructure investment would result in increased frequencies, improved on time performance, and reduced travel time (estimated at 25%) relative to current operations.

    With this HFR proposal and the enhancements in Toronto and Montreal, it's impressive to see the commitment to creating a robust rail network in these large cities. It's also interesting to see Canada gaining traction using their Infrastructure Bank to fund these local, regional, and intercity projects; I could see this turning into a successful business case for including a similar (effective) utility in the U.S. (at least I could dream, right? :))
     
  2. Jun 27, 2019 #2

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    This was on the news here the other night, although very little detail was given. I live close to the CN main east of Toronto and the VIA frequencies have increased to where they must be close to capacity when freight traffic is considered. An example is Toronto-Ottawa service, which used to be the poor step-child to Toronto-Montreal, now featuring 10-12 trains each way depending on day of the week.
     
    Urban Sky likes this.
  3. Jul 29, 2019 #3

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    VIA's got some damage control to do today after a report was released showing the Montreal - Quebec City portion would be a bad investment. For those of you unfamiliar with Canadian politics, this is the "elephant in the room" in these discussions. Current federal government will do anything to make that leg look important, where in reality they have far less service currently and much less potential than the rest of the route. A quick glance at the VIA timetable will illustrate the point. The plan under discussion already had those in the Toronto - Windsor portion of the "corridor" upset - they currently have more service than Montreal - Quebec City and weren't even a consideration in the new plan. This confirms it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
  4. Jul 29, 2019 #4

    bretton88

    b

    bretton88

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2009
    Messages:
    1,042
    While it might not be a great investment, without the QC leg it will be DOA politically in Quebec, who's support will be highly necessary.
     
  5. Jul 29, 2019 #5

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    Well, is the item getting a "bad note" the idea of any investment east of Montreal? Or just not investing in having two Montreal-Quebec City routes? FWIW when I was up there this past winter, I noticed two Business Class cars on the Ottawa-Quebec City trains.

    Of course, if VIA is "blowing off" Ontario west of Toronto...well, let's just say that makes Amtrak's recent chatter about Detroit-Toronto slightly confusing.

    Edit: On that last bit...is VIA trying to punt to Amtrak or is that stretch "falling through the cracks"?
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
  6. Jul 29, 2019 #6

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    You are not wrong, but I believe the purpose of the new study was for the viability of adding private funding. It will be one thing if the government wants to pony up for Montreal - Quebec City all on their own, but the suggestion is that a private partnership may only be possible for the remainder.
     
  7. Jul 29, 2019 #7

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    There are a couple of things to talk about there. I don't think there would be any consideration of having two Montreal to QC routes. The current route is fairly circuitous, makes 2 unnecessary crossings of the St. Lawrence River and at one time didn't even go to Quebec City, terminating in a suburb south of the river. A far more direct route is available on CP trackage north of the river the entire way. That is probably the target.

    If the train you saw was a Renaissance consist, two Business cars are common. I'm not sure of their capacity compared to a standard corridor BC car, but they are somewhat smaller.

    The route west of Toronto is similar to Montreal - Quebec City in traffic, number of trains, etc. It's just that without Detroit as an endpoint there is not much political motivation to improve service. As has been discussed elsewhere, there is not much chance of Detroit - Toronto becoming a reality anytime soon. Quebec City on the other hand, is voter-rich for the current government. I think VIA would be happy to drop both ends of the "corridor", but included the latter so the proposal would play better to the Feds.

    The other key element to remember here is that this is not a traditional corridor as would be defined on Amtrak. It is simply a collection of several train routes that share one endpoint each. There is limited crossover from one route to the other and certainly no end-to-end service as would be the case with Amtrak. Historically the key segment was Toronto - Montreal and Ottawa was somewhat of an afterthought, since it does not really fall in the straight line between the other two. Recently traffic between Toronto and Ottawa has grown by leaps and bounds (almost triple) and Ottawa - Montreal does reasonable business as well. The trackage is mostly single on both sides of Ottawa and, although there is little competition from freight, there is no room for expansion and using that route adds considerable time to a Toronto - Montreal trip vs. the direct route. (Visualize Amtrak sending all NYC - Boston trains via Springfield.) This brings us to the proposal - draw a straight line between Toronto and Ottawa (hello CP), remove all freight trains from that route and send all VIA service from Toronto to Montreal via Ottawa.

    I don't have any illusions that the result will actually be High Speed Rail on non-standard tracks. It will be Higher Speed more in line with the Virgin/Brightline project. I only hope something happens in my lifetime.
     
  8. Jul 29, 2019 #8

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    The trains in question have also included mixed consists (rather than "just" Rens). IIRC one had an LRC Business Class car and a Budd Business Class car.

    Notwithstanding weakness east of Montreal, over the years I've tended to see plenty of "through Montreal" traffic from Ottawa into Quebec (which is likely why those trains got reworked the way they did).

    I know this isn't going to be HSR (though getting MAS up from 90 to 100 or 110 would be nice)...but in my experience, if nothing goes haywire the run is drive-time competitive (at least Montreal-Toronto).
     
  9. Jul 29, 2019 #9

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    So, I don't have time to get into all the details, but looking at VIA's ridership/revenue data over the last few years is fascinating...but there's a quirky blurring going on in one place: Their annual reports indicate two "main" corridor markets. One is "Tornoto-Ottawa-Montreal" and the other is "Quebec-Montreal-Ottawa". Obviously this means that trains between Ottawa and Montreal get allocated between the two (presumably on the basis of their eastern endpoint), but it does mean that there's room for ridership to have been moved over.

    Still, VIA has managed to add about a million riders in the last five years, which is quite the reversal from the prior five years (as far as I can tell). I'll try to work up some charts tonight.
     
    Bob Dylan likes this.
  10. Jul 30, 2019 #10

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    There is no argument that VIA has improved its revenue, although not exactly making money. Run-through trains are quite common, such as Toronto - Ottawa - Montreal (50 series trains) and Ottawa - Montreal - Quebec (30 series trains), but this gets further blurred when equipment is re-used for an onward route rather than being turned at destination. Some examples are Toronto - Ottawa becoming an Ottawa - Montreal (or Quebec) train under another number. Also, short Ottawa (or Montreal) - Toronto consists often change crews and train numbers in Toronto to become Windsor (or London/Sarnia) trains. VIA are masters of not turning equipment until they absolutely have to, but lack sufficient resources to do the Amtrak Michigan practice of a loco on either end. I am surprised they haven't looked into "cabbages" or control cars of some sort. The new Siemens equipment will resolve this however.
     
  11. Jul 30, 2019 #11

    Urban Sky

    U

    Urban Sky

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2018
    Messages:
    45
    Location:
    MTR
    The two markets are clearly separated by train numbers:
    • "Quebec-Montreal-Ottawa" are the 20/30/620/630 series trains.
    • "Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal" are the 40/50/60/640/650 series trains.
    Maybe renaming "Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal" to "Toronto-Ottawa/Montreal" would make things slightly clearer, but there is still train #51 as the last surviving Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto train...

    Thank you for noticing!
    upload_2019-7-29_21-18-23.png
    Source: VIA Rail Annual Report 2018 (p. 8)
     
  12. Jul 30, 2019 #12

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    Well, my point is more that the move to run most of the Ottawa-Montreal trains through to Quebec raises the question of whether those trains got switched from one group to the other (particularly if, as I think I recall, some of them were being run Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal). It just makes tracking data clearly a bit harder.
     
  13. Jul 30, 2019 #13

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    sighs

    I've got the analysis done, and it is fascinating. Unfortunately, I can't upload Excel files. A few observations, though:
    -The Canadian had a major improvement in cost recovery between 2014 and 2017 (from 45.95% to 64.81%). This actually coincided with improvement on the part of the Winnipeg-Churchill train as well as the Jasper-Prince Rupert train for the first few years. I suspect there was some through traffic at play (e.g. connecting tourists). The Winnipeg-Churchill train's disruption probably did not help the Canadian, particularly off-season (in their report for 2019Q1, VIA notes an increase in regional services traffic being driven by the restoration of that train; this times out with the Canadian performing extremely well as well, and I don't think that is coincidental).
    -It looks like the expansion of Go Transit service towards Niagara is actually helping that train's performance. Ridership is higher now than it was in 2013 (the start of the data set) and is up about 70% in the last two years. Something something connectivity? Of note, the removal of the "opposite" train that VIA ran seems to have had zero impact on ridership.
    -The relative performance of the other Corridor trains is also quite fascinating to look at. Going back to 2013-16, Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto is the best-performing of the three segments (aside from Niagara, that is). As of now, it is the weakest of the three. Of course, converting almost all of the Quebec City trains to run through probably helped (if only by moving some ridership over between the categories; Quebec-Montreal-Ottawa is now the best-performing segment in the system), as did dropping the second train to Sarnia (Toronto-London-Windsor is #2 by a whisker). The reshuffled schedules do seem to be working out.
     
  14. Jul 30, 2019 #14

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,752
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    When I was on the Maple Leaf in Canada a week or two back, there were dozens and dozens of people on the US bound Maple Leaf going out for a day trip to Niagara Falls ON, who planned to spend the day at the Falls and then take the Maple Leaf back to Toronto in the evening. VIA is doing significant local business on that train as far as I could tell.

    Incidentally, the border crossing, though off the train, was a relatively pleasant experience both ways this time. I managed to not burst out in a smile when I saw that the name of the CBSA agent who inspected me was Ms. Coward. That would have been unkind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
    Bob Dylan and pennyk like this.
  15. Jul 30, 2019 #15

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 31, 2009
    Messages:
    18,293
    Location:
    Austin Texas
    Glad to hear that the US Border Crossing Expierence is improved from the East Berlin type of Expierence we used to go through @ the Old Amtrak Station on the NY side.;)
     
  16. Jul 30, 2019 #16

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,752
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    I did mention the improvement to the CBP Agent. He agreed that it used to be "rough" before the new facility opened at the new station at NFL. They had four agent positions open and seemed to process people quite quickly. They could improve the flow of US and Canadian citizens (Passport, Passport Card, NEXUS, Globa Entry, Green Card) if they dedicated a couple to just those, like they do for US citizens and Green Card holders at airports. The holdups happened each time someone who required a visa came up for inspection. But truth be told, there is barely room for a single queue to form, so this is not going to happen.
     
  17. Jul 30, 2019 #17

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 31, 2009
    Messages:
    18,293
    Location:
    Austin Texas
    They should go back to doing it on the Train like they used to do on the Canadian side! Worked great!
     
  18. Jul 30, 2019 #18

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    They used to do it on-train in both directions. The thwarted attempt to blow up the train while on the Whirlpool Bridge ended all such courtesies. The initial reason was to get everyone off so that sniffer dogs could walk the train and it just continued. US CBP started, Canada followed shortly after (as usual).
     
  19. Jul 30, 2019 #19

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,752
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    I very much doubt it will ever go back to doing it on the train again in case of Maple Leaf. In case of the Adirondack it will move to processing at Montreal Central and then running a sealed train to/from Rouses Point. No such possibility with the Maple Leaf since it will always be a VIA train with local stops in Canada.
     
  20. Jul 31, 2019 #20

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    The only hope is when GO Transit replaces the Canadian stops on the Maple Leaf. There is a provision for a US CBP office in the Union Station never-ending construction. US Border officers would come in from Pearson Airport, 21 minutes away on the express train, specifically to handle the departure of the Maple Leaf, which would then run sealed to the border similar to the Adirondack proposal from Montreal. The GO part is going to happen; the rest is somewhere between possible and flying pigs.
     
    neroden, jis, Bob Dylan and 1 other person like this.
  21. Jul 31, 2019 #21

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    24,752
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    If VIA has no income possibility with all Canadian stops removed, then the Canadian run of the Maple Leaf will essentially have to be funded by New York State. It would be interesting to see what the New York legislature thinks of directing funds to run a service in Canada. For the Adirondack it is a relatively short run handled by Amtrak crew. That is unlikely to be the case for the Maple Leaf. They are already having problems with getting agreement from CN labor unions on allowing Amtrak crew to run the extended Vermonter to Montreal, and most likely it will be CN T&E crew in Canada for that while Amtrak OBS likely will go through to Montreal as it looks now, and that will cost more.

    All in all it will be interesting to see what happens, if it ever comes to pass.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
    neroden likes this.
  22. Aug 1, 2019 #22

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    328
    Location:
    Toronto area
    I agree. The only known in the process is that by this time next year GO Transit will have 4 trains on the Canadian side of the Falls. One will be in the same timeframe as the Maple Leaf - I heard 9:00-ish departure from Toronto, since that is when equipment starts to free up from rush hour. They already have a westbound near that time - presume it will simply be extended. It will be interesting to see what VIA (and by proxy Amtrak) does. They could alter the Maple Leaf's departure time (earlier or later), go to fewer stops (to justify higher fare) or just annul the train on the Canadian side and offer a bus transfer. Customs preclearance and a sealed train are very much "pie-in-the-sky", and although possible, they will take years to implement. The Toronto Union Station reconstruction is years behind schedule and there is significant discussion about GO wanting more capacity and wider platforms (so fewer tracks), raising the spectre of VIA moving out entirely. All these issues will have to be addressed before any attention is given to one lonely train that few Canadians even know exists.
     
  23. Aug 1, 2019 #23

    neroden

    n

    neroden

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2014
    Messages:
    7,337
    Location:
    Ithaca, NY
    Hrrrrm? So Quebec doesn't care about getting from Montreal to Ottawa, or Montreal to Toronto? I would think they would.

    I understand that rerouting the Quebec City - Montreal trains to north of the river would be a major improvement; shorter, straighter, and has a larger intermediate population points; but also expensive and with a lower payoff than finishing Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto (partly because VIA already owns a great hunk of Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto).
     
  24. Aug 1, 2019 #24

    Anderson

    A

    Anderson

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    9,215
    Location:
    Virginia
    I think this is a classic case of "If we don't get something in our neighborhood then we don't want the entire thing". If Quebec were getting a package of improvements to the existing routing (perhaps allowing faster access on the Quebec City end to shave some time off) that might cut it. The issue is if they get nothing in "their area".
     
    bretton88 likes this.
  25. Aug 1, 2019 #25

    bretton88

    b

    bretton88

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2009
    Messages:
    1,042
    They do care, but Quebec City has a big pull in the local politics and the other 2 cities you mentioned, Ottawa and Toronto, are not their voters or their problem. So they definitely won't agree to funding unless they get something thrown their way for the Montreal to QC leg.
     

Share This Page

arrow_white