Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Dec 13

VIA Rail selects New Fleet for Quebec-Windsor Corridor

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

VIA Rail Canada announced on December 12 that Siemens Canada has been selected as the successful bidder in its fleet renewal program for the Quebec-Windsor Corridor. This is a day that Transport Action Ontario and our affiliate organizations have long campaigned for, and we welcome this federal investment in VIA Rail and environmentally responsible transportation.

The value of the contract is $989M to build 32 new bi-directional trainsets (160 passenger cars and 40 locomotives) plus a 15 year Technical Services and Spare Supply Agreement valued at $23.7M/yr. The first trains are expected to be delivered for testing in 2022, and to be phased in across the Quebec-Windsor corridor over the following two years.

The fleet will be assembled at Siemens plant in Sacramento, California, although Siemens has pledged to source 20% of the parts and services from Canadian suppliers, establishing procurement offices in Ontario and Quebec.
The fleet is based on the Siemens Viaggio design, which has been operating on Austria’s express intercity “Railjet” service across Europe since 2006. This design has also proven itself in North America on Brightline’s express rail services between Miami and West Palm Beach, which will soon be extended to Orlando and Tampa under the Virgin Trains USA brand. Similar equipment is also on order for Amtrak’s Midwestern services and to replace older equipment on California’s inter-city rail services.

The passenger cars will have fast wireless internet, bicycle spaces, quiet zones, and will surpass current universal accessibility standards. They will feature wide aisles, larger washrooms, level boarding at stations with high platforms like Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, and automatic lifts for accessibility at other stations, helping to fulfill VIA Rail’s commitment to Canadian disability and veterans’ groups.

The trains will run at up to 160 km/h on existing routes, including tracks which VIA Rail services share with CN’s freight operations, and are capable of operating at more than 200 km/h if the federal government also approves VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail proposal to provide dedicated passenger tracks in parts of the corridor.
The new equipment could also be used to improve service frequencies and reduce travel times in Southwestern Ontario if Ontario’s new government transforms the previous government’s exploration of High Speed Rail into a targeted investment in maximizing the utility of existing rail corridors.

VIA Rail states that it undertook a fair, open, rigorous and transparent procurement process following the best international practices in this field. However, the decision to award the contract to an international bidder has come under fire from Unifor and Quebec politicians who would prefer to have seen a Canadian supplier win. In defence, VIA claims that the Siemens bid was far superior to all other bids in schedule, quality and price. Meanwhile, Bombardier Canada has benefited from numerous orders for its highly successful bi-level commuter equipment, both from Canadian and US transit agencies, including an order for up to 999 cars for New Jersey Transit worth as much as $3.6 billion, clearly demonstrating that Canadian workers also enjoy the advantages of bilateral trade in the rail industry.

VIA Rail is also investing $154M in refurbishing its fleet of Budd-built stainless steel passenger cars for transcontinental and regional services, providing updated seating, wheelchair lifts and fully accessible bathrooms. These contracts, and a contract for refurbishing four dinning cars, have all been awarded to Canadian companies, supporting some 300 jobs in Quebec.

With the “Renaissance” fleet of British-built cars on the Ocean service to Halifax also in need of replacement, Transport Action hopes to see federal funding to refurbish more of VIA Rail’s stainless steel sleeping cars in the near future, a contract that is also likely to go to a Canadian facility.

Nov 27

Alternatives added to the Environmental Assessment for High Speed Rail

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Uncategorized

Our colleagues in Southwestern Ontario, InterCityRail, have issued a notice about the Environmental Assessment study underway for High Speed Rail.  Transport Action Ontario is very pleased with this development, as it is consistent with our own advocacy over the years.    The notice is pasted below:

 

InterCityRail
Improving rail transportation is a good idea. Let’s look at all the options.

Hi Everyone

We have been informed by Jeff Yurek, the Minister of Transportation, that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has been instructed to add alternatives to HSR to the Environmental Assessment.

MTO will now be able to consider alternative modes (possibilities may include GO Transit, VIA Rail and Regional Express Rail) instead of just 250 kph high-speed trains. MTO will also be able to consider alternative routes (possibilities may include the existing CN North and CN South corridors, Highway 401/403/407 transportation corridors, etc.) instead of just the Hydro One right of way between Baden and the southeast corner of London. Reports have stated that the impact on rural communities and farmland will now also be considered.

This does not mean that HSR is dead. What it means is that HSR, as well as other options, must be evaluated by the MTO.

We will continue to closely monitor developments and do whatever we can to provide input to the MTO so that an evidenced-based solution — one that serves the needs of all citizens, communities, and the environment — will be found for passenger rail transportation in southwestern Ontario. We will keep you posted on new developments.

Regards

Steering Committee.

 

Nov 21

Ontario’s 2018 Fall Economic Statement – Mixed Signals on Transportation

By TAO-admin | Highways and Bridges , Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

On November 15, Ontario released its 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES). It is a large document covering all aspects of the Province’s operations. It is likely the most significant statement on the government’s intentions until the provincial budget comes out in Spring, 2019.

To date, the government has implemented various tax and fee cuts, including cancelling cap and trade, putting in a hiring freeze, changing labour laws, and cancelling some projects and programs, including 4 new universities, 758 renewable energy contracts, and the Environmental Commissioner office. There is a lot of public worry about additional future cuts as the government struggles to balance its books.

The statements on transportation in the FES are a mixed bag as summarized below:

• In contrast to their election platform promise to reinstate the Northlander train, the FES emphasizes northern highway improvements, and only promises to “review other initiatives to meet Northerners’ transportation needs, including passenger rail and bus services”.

• Similarly, in contrast to their promise to deliver all transit and transportation projects currently funded, the FES simply indicates that “the government looks forward to completing its review of all capital projects and intends to share details in the coming months”.

• The campaign plan to upload responsibility for existing and new subway lines from Toronto is maintained in the FES. See previous posting on this topic on the TAO website for more details. We have now heard that the advisory report on this uploading will be coming to the government by the end of this month.

• The campaign promise to actively explore High Speed Rail in Southwestern Ontario has been replaced with a plan to analyze a range of “options to either upgrade existing rail corridors, create new ones or utilize other forms of transportation.” This appears to be a welcome step-back from the previous government’s single-minded pursuit of High Speed Rail only. TAO has long advocated for a review of rail alternatives such as High Performance Rail involving incremental improvements to train speed and frequency on all existing corridors. But of course, the “other forms of transportation” statement bears watching.

• As expected, the province is reviving the Environmental Assessment for the GTA-W highway corridor. TAO participated in the previous EA process, emphasizing that existing infrastructure (rail, provincial highways, regional roads) need expansion to full capacity prior to a new expressway being built.

• A new item in the FES is a planned review of the enabling legislation for Metrolinx to “enhance the agency’s focus on regional transit delivery and service excellence”. Whether this leads to some sort of broader scope for Metrolinx, such as one regional transit agency like “Superlinx”, remains to be seen.

• The province is continuing work on the Greater Golden Horseshoe transportation plan, to which TAO and other non-government organizations have previously inputted.

• The FES is silent on the campaign promise to add $5B in new subway funding to build various lines in the GTHA. It is also silent on other topics that TAO has urged action on, including living up to the previous government promises of higher gas tax revenue to municipalities and provincial contributions to transit fare integration in Greater Toronto, as well as assistance to municipalities to implement low-income fares/passes.

 

In summary, with this new government, there are many planned or potential major changes to Ontario’s transportation landscape. TAO intends to closely monitor all of these and provide input to ensure that sustainability gets its fair due.

Nov 12

Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster – New Book Discusses Regulatory Failure

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Almost all Canadians will the remember the Lac Megantic disaster in July, 2013, involving a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) freight train loaded with volatile crude oil that derailed and exploded, with 47 fatalities. Dr. Bruce Campbell, former executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and now Professor at York University, has published a new book “The Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster – Public Betrayal, Justice Denied”. Campbell is a long-time friend of Transport Action and our organization attended the book launch. He has written extensively about Lac-Megantic.

Although Transport Action’s mandate is passenger rail, the obvious connections with freight rail means that we monitor this field in such areas as infrastructure and safety.

The book tracks the events leading to the disaster, focussing on regulatory and policy decisions made by government, including deregulation, privatization, government austerity and neoliberalism. It fingers the introduction (2001) of the Safety Management System approach, which are developed and managed by the companies themselves and lead to reduced unannounced field inspections by regulators. However, the single largest failure was the Transport Canada (TC) approval (2012) allowing MMA to implement Single Person Train Operation, despite their very poor safety record.

The disaster followed a year later.

Campbell indicates that the response to the disaster has been weak. Only 3 low level employees were charged criminally, and found not guilty. A civil settlement of $460M was reached, well below actual damages. The Harper government passed the Safe Rail Act, which modestly increased insurance requirements for railways and modestly increased the number of TC inspectors.

Campbell alleges that political pressure on the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) resulted in a report that whitewashed the culpability of TC in allowing MMA’s repeated safety violations to go unchecked and allowing one person operations.

Today the situation is still worrysome. Railway incidents, including runaways, continue at a high level. Oil-by-rail movements are likely to increase. Vulnerable tank car (CP-1232) phaseout is not until 2025. The safety management system approach and fatigue management are the top two items on the TSB watchlist.

Campbell’s book is available from James Lorimer & Company Publishers. It is a fascinating read.

Oct 15

NEORN Continues to Advocate for Return of Passenger Rail Service

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario

Our colleagues at the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) continue to advocate strongly that the Ontario PC government fulfill its promise to restore full passenger rail service to Northern Ontario.   NEORN has written an open letter to key Queens Park elected officials requesting a status update.  They have also updated all of the 90+ municipalities, First Nations and other stakeholder organizations that provided resolutions of support for the return of passenger rail.

 

The NEORN open letter to Queens Park elected officials can be viewed here: NEORN letter to Premier Ford-10.10.18

 

The NEORN letter to stakeholders can be viewed here:  NEORN letter to municipalities re Premier Ford final 10.10.18

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