VIA Rail May Finally Get a Break.
For many years, VIA Rail’s iconic trans-continental train, the Canadian, ran on a route owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway. On its way from from Vancouver to Toronto, the train passed through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world and also made stops at Lake Louise and Banff (below), two very popular tourist destinations.
But in 1990, with not so much as a by-your-leave, the Canadian was suddenly declared persona non grata on the CP route and switched to a route farther north on track owned by Canada’s other Class One railroad, the Canadian National Railway. It was a significant change because the new route was not as scenic—admittedly a relative term in the spectacular Canadian Rockies—and it took the train through less populated areas which meant fewer passengers and a corresponding loss of revenue. And instead of passing through Banff and Lake Louise, the new route took the train to Jasper. It was and is a nice little town, but it’s nothing at all like Banff, which attracts a lot more visitors . . . high-end visitors.
The CN route also has a lot more freight traffic which caused frequent delays for the VIA train … delays that became such a problem that, to compensate, VIA lengthened the Canadian’s schedule, which added a fourth night to the journey. Of course, the net result of these changes was absolutely predictable: less revenue and higher costs.
In other words, there appeared to be no valid reason for switching the VIA train from the Canadian Pacific route to the Canadian National route.
Oh . . . wait! There was one possible reason: In 1990, a privately run tourist train, the Rocky Mountaineer, began operating over that preferred CP route from Vancouver to Lake Louise and Banff. And of course it was a mere coincidence that the owner of the Rocky Mountaineer, Peter Armstrong, was politically connected with the conservative government at the time. According to speculation at the time, Peter Armstrong says a few words to someone high up in the government and that person says a few words to people high-up in the two national railroads, and voila! The Canadian is moved to a more northerly route and the Rocky Mountaineer has no competition for bringing people from Vancouver to Banff and Lake Louise.
But now, pretty much out of the blue, comes word on very good authority that the Canadian will be switched back to its original traditional route within a year. Some railroading reasons are being given for the change—the CP tracks are under-utilized being one—and there is no mention of the fact that the conservatives are out and the Liberal Party is in. No mention at all.
Also, stop blaming CP for the discontinuance of the real Canadian. CP was run back then by people who knew the Canadian when it was “Buck’s Beauty”, and went out of its way to properly dispatch it and make sure it ran smoothly. The problems were all in Parilament, which was dead set on eliminating it. The only reason anything exists these days is that former Prime Minister Joe Clarke, who said that his constituents along the CN mainline would take any service provided.
I wrote that five years ago!
Jim, did you ever take the CP route Canadian? If so, please make a post on it.
I believe the Rocky Mountaineer runs on CP track. I rode that train from Vancouver to Banff 5 or 6 years ago and remember passing through some quite extraordinary areas. You can pull up those posts by entering key word in the SEARCH box on the site.
I have read your posts on the Rocky Mountaineer, it was quite interesting. Did you ever ride the VIA train through the original CP route?
Thanks for the update, M.E. – I was prepared to be all mad about changing the route of the Canadian to Calgary-Vancouver (I live in Edmonton). I think taking the CP route to Winnipeg would be helpful though – and maybe there’ll be HST (or at least daily RDC service) to Calgary if/when the whole route is changed.
Unfortunately, the proposed re-route to Canadian Pacific (CP) of VIA’s “The Canadian” is only planned between Toronto-Winnipeg via Thunder Bay. A deal should be reached within one year. No discussion of returning to the southerly, more populated and scenic route of CP from Winnipeg-Vancouver.
Interestingly, a federal review of the Canada Transportation Act was pushed by Rocky Mountaineer in the last year of the Tory government under PM Harper. Released in February 2016, the report manipulated data to fit the cause for Rocky Mountaineer’s complaints of unfair advantage and uncompetitive practices (“when pigs fly!”); suggesting de-funding VIA outside of its Windsor-Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa-Quebec City corridor. Although the 1990 deal to re-route “The Canadian” to the less populated, least scenic, heavy freight traffic northern route of the CN was made under Tory PM Mulroney, the Liberals were in power under PM Chretien between 1993-2002, and could have revered the deal. As they elected not to, it just evidences how both political parties are in bed with big business and their donors–just like in the U.S.
The re-route over CP will increase patronage between Toronto-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg; the scenery along Lake Superior is spectacular; will open-up mobility to an area bereft of connecting long distance bus routes and reasonably priced air service.