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.