Despite Omicron, VIA Rail Canada reported a 233.2 per cent rise in ridership in Q1 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. In its Q1 2022 results, from 01JAN to 31MAR 2022, VIA Rail cited the rise in demand as the result of “adjustments made to service levels” to accommodate increased passengers throughout the quarter.
“One of the key elements to managing the effects of the pandemic over the past 2 years has been the ability to adapt, and that was certainly tested in the first quarter of 2022,” said Marie-Claude Cardin, Chief Financial Officer. “As provinces began closing schools, gyms, bars and restaurants in response to the spread of the Omicron variant in January, our teams adapted quickly to the rapidly evolving situation, adjusting services throughout the quarter in line with demand.”
However, VIA Rail notes that as of MAR 2022, it remained at 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Minimizing the financial impacts
VIA Rail’s operating expenses increased by 25.7 per cent over the quarter, which the company said is due to the increase in service levels in the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor throughout the Q1 2022, higher market fuel prices, and increased network access charges from host railways.
Throughout this period, the rail operator implemented various measures designed to save costs:
- The reduction of some of its operating expenses in proportion to the level of operations.
- Reduction of administrative costs and the postponement of “nonessential initiatives.”
Setting the stage for service resumption
As demand for travel gradually increased throughout the quarter, and in line with VIA Rail’s commitment to returning services across the country when conditions allow, VIA Rail gradually increased Corridor frequencies. On 01MAR 2022, 82 weekly train departures were added to the 163 the company was operating in the Corridor, paving the way for additional routes and departures scheduled to return to service from coast to coast to coast as planned in JUN 2022.
New Fleet advances with winter tests
VIA Rail reached new milestones in its modernization program which include, amongst others, the Québec City-Windsor corridor Fleet Replacement Program. In JAN 2022, the first trainset of VIA Rail’s new Corridor Fleet continued its winter tests, including a shunting test. The purpose of this test is to ensure that all systems on the tracks are functional and the shunting test detects when a train is present on any given section of a track and then activates the signaling systems, which is vital to ensuring security at crossings.
High Frequency Rail (HFR) next steps announced
In MAR 2022, the government of Canada announced that it was advancing the HFR project proposed by VIA Rail in 2016, with the launch of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI). This RFEOI will inform the next stages of the procurement process which assists the Government of Canada to find the best partner for HFR. As part of this next phase, VIA Rail will play a critical role throughout the project as underscored by Minister Alghabra during the announcement.
“As VIA Rail continues its efforts to serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast through its service resumption plan and the advancement of its modernization program, we look forward to working with the federal government and collaborating with a private sector partner to deliver HFR,” the company said in a statement.
In FEB, VIA Rail announced it was the first federal organization to table its 2022-2025 accessibility plan with the Government of Canada under the Accessible Canada Act.
VIA Rail’s multi-year plan charts the course for a more accessible and inclusive experience for employees at work and for passengers along their journey with, for example, the creation of American Sign Language (ASL) and la Langue des Signes Québécoise (LSQ) videos on VIA Rail’s web site, and an accessible procurement process to incorporate accessibility early on in decision-making before projects are launched.
For more information on VIA Rail, visit its web site.