Campaigning for rail riders
London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
For Marc Laliberté, the passenger rail service changes that took effect this summer— with more on the way this fall— are the “past” and won’t be undone.
But VIA Rail’s president and chief executive officer told a gathering of regional leaders in London on Thursday morning (Aug. 30), including the mayors of London, Chatham-Kent, Sarnia and Stratford, that his company is ready to focus on the future and find ways to keep VIA as a viable transportation service in Southwestern Ontario.
“We talked with the mayors about the future, not the past,” Laliberté told reporters after emerging from an hour-and-a-half meeting with the leaders at City Hall. “We’re going to start a working committee together to try to increase ridership in the future.
“The best way that I mentioned to them and I think they tend to agree is intermodality. And so we’re going to sit down and look at the network and see how we can increase ridership altogether.”
Cooperation with the operators of other modes of transportation such as airlines, bus and shuttle services and even other rail service providers could help beef up VIA’s ridership and allow the company to increase the frequency of trains running throughout the region, he added.
Although Laliberté took a train to London for the meeting, he ironically had to leave by car, saying he had an “important meeting” in Toronto to attend and the train schedule would not accommodate his timeline.
None of the other regional leaders present at the meeting used rail to reach London either due to inconvenient train schedules.
That’s why Thursday’s discussion about improving rail service in the region was so important, London Mayor Joe Fontana said.
“We set the mood by saying right from the outset that we’re prepared to be part of the solution, we’re prepared to be partners in any way we possibly can to make sure that VIA service is enhanced,” he said.
In June, VIA announced it was cancelling service on Fridays for train 686 between London and Toronto and, at the end of last month, the London-to-Sarnia segments of trains 85 and 88 were cancelled.
Service between Toronto and Windsor via London will now have train 70 originate in London Saturdays and Sundays and train 75 will terminate at London on Fridays and Saturdays, meaning there will be no more service to Windsor on those days.
And the Toronto-Kitchener-London trains 86 and 89 are cancelled as of the end of October.
Many of the regional leaders present at the meeting Thursday said the planned cuts in service will hurt business and tourism in their communities.
Fontana said regional governments were “floored” when they learned about the service cutbacks and, during the meeting, the representatives of those governments pledged to be “allies” in an effort to “build (VIA’s) ridership through marketing campaigns, through talking to our community.”
“Our citizens want, in Southwestern Ontario, transportation options,” he said. “And there’s no doubt with the cutbacks that we are removing those options for people in our large cities, in our smaller cities and out towns.”
Aside from the climate of cooperation, Fontana said VIA’s representatives at the meeting also apologized for not consulting with regional governments before announcing the service changes.
“They made a commitment that they would not do that again.”
The working group Laliberté mentioned, made up of regional leaders and VIA staff, will come together immediately to find solutions to transportation needs in Southwestern Ontario, he added.
Fontana also said VIA gave “assurances” there would be no further service cutbacks in the region.
As for the “intermodal” solutions being considered for enhanced service in Southwestern Ontario, Fontana said London could act as a hub, with VIA partnering with the operators of other modes of transportation such as buses and shuttles to create connections from the city’s rail terminal to bring travellers to smaller communities in the area.
And if ridership were to consequently go up, VIA could apply some of the federal cash it has recently received for infrastructure improvements to reintroduce some of the services that have been, or are scheduled to be, cut.
“What they indicated is, with their infrastructure and money that they put into rolling stock, that they could respond to an increase in demand by adding an additional train or two,” he said. “We could probably service more people if the people of Southwestern Ontario understand that, if they want to keep VIA, they’re going to have to start using it a lot more.”
Along with the working committee, the representatives of the regional governments have also signed a resolution asking the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to tell the government how important VIA’s passenger services are across the country.