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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Canada's auditor notes 'significant' decline in VIA's on-time performance


The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) of Canada found that VIA Rail Canada Inc.'s on-time performance worsened "significantly" from 2010 to 2014.

In 2010, the passenger railroad had an on-time performance rate of 82 percent, but that dropped to 76 percent by 2014, according to the office's recent "special examination" of VIA Rail.

The decline could compromise the railroad's goals to increase revenue and ridership, the OAG's report said.

"The on-time performance of trains is one of the key indicators of the effectiveness of VIA's services and is the main factor in customer satisfaction," the report stated. "However, in Canada, passenger trains do not have the right of way. Therefore, VIA's trains are frequently required to yield to freight traffic, which sometimes results in significant delays."

The report recommended that VIA Rail, together with the railroads that own track, ensure that there are "mechanisms in place making it possible to maintain the on-time performance" of trains.

VIA Rail agreed with the recommendation and believes that congestion on shared tracks remains a "major issue" for Canada. A dedicated track project could make it possible for passenger trains to arrive on time 98 percent of the time on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal segment, according to the OAG's report.

In addition, the auditor general found that there was a "significant deficiency" in the passenger railroad's governance. Although VIA has made efforts to define a long-term strategic direction, the railroad still has had no long-term plan or direction approved by the federal government. Additionally, VIA has received only short-term approval of its funding and five-year corporate plan, and often late into its fiscal year.

"In this context, VIA could not fulfill its mandate as economically, efficiently, and effectively as desired," the report stated. "The significant deficiency could also compromise the corporation’s medium- and long-term viability."

Members of the Save VIA advocacy group agreed with the examination's findings.

“It was high time for an independent and thorough VIA audit like this," said Save VIA founder Chris West in a statement. "What the Auditor General has found is proof that our new government had better get beyond its words of praise for the concept of improved rail passenger service and aggressively tackle a series of problems that threaten to destroy it."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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