April 16, 2016

Comments to Transport Canada concerning the Ocean service between Montreal and Halifax

On February 25, 2016, the Minister of Transport tabled in Parliament the Canada Transportation Act (CTA) Review Report. The report recommended continuing the federal subsidy for the regional and remote, and the Montréal– Halifax passenger services. You can read the report on their website here http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/ctareview2014/canada-transportation-act-review.html. But to ensure the long term future of the Ocean the frequency must be increased and the train must be re equiped with modern equipment. So I wrote a letter to them.

Transport Canada

April 16, 2016

Dear Sir or Madam,

The CTA Review Report has recommended the government continue subsidies for the Montreal to Halifax rail passenger service. This is a vital service for many communities in Eastern Canada that have few other transportation options. Not only is it important for travel within the Maritimes but also between the Maritimes and points west. However, it is difficult to make trip plans with 3 day a week service. This is reflected by the drop in ridership in 2012 when VIA cut in half the frequency of the Ocean. In VIA Rail’s 2011 annual report, the last full year of 6 day a week service, the Ocean carried 134 thousand passengers on government funding of $35 million dollars. That comes out to a subsidy per passenger of $260.06. In VIA Rail’s 2013 annual report, the first full year of 3 day a week service, the Ocean carried just 76 thousand passengers but the government funding was at $34 million. The subsidy per passenger was $437.10. If the idea is to provide more services to more people with little incremental cost, it would be apparent to increase the Ocean frequency. This year VIA Rail is working on adding weekday services between Campbellton and Moncton N.B., and between Moncton and Halifax, N.S. The frequency should also be increased between Halifax and Montreal.

The best way to lower the operating cost of the Ocean service is to re equip it with modern high capacity double decker cars. The current Renaissance cars were built in 1995 - 96 and entered service in 2002. They were designed for the Channel Tunnel between England and France and are smaller than North American passenger cars. In fact the Renaissance coach has 48 seats which is 23% less than their HEP1 long distance coaches. The sleeping cars have 10 double bedrooms. There are no single occupancy accommodations which would be more affordable for people travelling alone. They are expensive to maintain and are semi-permanently attached. It takes something like 4 hours to add or remove cars from the train. Lacking spare parts, more of these Renaissance cars are being cannibalized so their life expectancy is short. A re equiped Ocean with modern high capacity double decker cars would cost less to maintain and the fees for track access would be less considering the fewer number of cars it would take to replace them. If the long term future of the Ocean is to be secure, it is urgent that the process of acquisition be started now

Yours sincerely,

Barry Brake
Montreal, QC