Demise Of Western Canadian Rail Passenger Service

At one time the train was the quickest and most efficient way of getting people from Point A to Point B.

Instead of a few days by stagecoach people could get to their destination in a matter of hours. Vehicles and planes do give people more flexibility and speed to get to where they are going.

I’ve pondered for years on why rail passengers service in Western Canada has declined to near non existence. One is the high fares that the average working person can’t afford. In 2002 I entered a travel agency in the former Canadian Pacific rail station in Saskatoon. I asked for the price for a coach seat, one way, from Saskatoon to Vancouver. The agent quoted me a price of $780. Later that day I got on VIA’s website and saw their price was $640 for that same one way coach seat between the two above cities. Imagine what the fare is these days in 2014.

Cars are good when people want to travel at their leisure and don’t want to be restricted by arrival or departure times. An advantage of planes is that it is a quick way of travelling. I do suspect that Canadian Pacific or Canadian National really don’t want passenger trains taking up space from their freights. But after 9/11 I asked why both national railways didn’t capitalize and offer rail passenger service as people were adverse to flying for a spell.

rail passengers service

Rail passenger service still exists in Western Canada but on a very limited scale. The Rocky Mountaineer operates a regular schedule but their fares are quite expensive therefore caters to wealthy tourists. VIA has passenger service three times a week in each direction on the Canadian National mainline. Both the E&N dayliner on Vancouver Island and B.C. Rail from North Vancouver to Prince George stopped running passenger service in 2011. Reasons cited was the condition of the bridge in Victoria and upgrading the Budd cars on the North Vancouver to Prince George run. The Jasper to Prince Rupert and Winnipeg to Churchill runs is three times a week, both serve areas where roads are limited or non-existent.

An issue is that rail passenger service is a slow mode of transportation in a fast paced society. Western Canada isn’t a heavily populated, making the reality that it just isn’t profitable enough to operate passenger trains. As demand goes down, subsidies go up to keep rail passenger trains going. With bigger concerns, like reducing hospital waiting lists, I think rail passenger service should be handed over to the private sector. People’s health is more important than passenger trains when taxpayers money is involved. As much as passenger trains are my favourite mode of travel, some serious tweaking needs to be done here.

By Ron Murdock

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