On June 15, the Canadian Club of London hosted a 1-hour virtual fireside chat between VIA Rai’s acting CEO Martin Landry, and London Mayor Ed Holder. Transport Action Ontario (TAO) listened in and also submitted questions to be answered later by VIA. Our colleagues at Rail Action in Lambton also attended.
There were few surprises in Landry’s remarks. London is VIA’s 4th busiest station and VIA has invested $11M in it since 2019. London is in a sweet spot for population density and distances. Other remarks included:
- VIA recognizes that not all train service has been restored to pre-pandemic levels, including Trains 82/83 round trip through Brantford and Trains 85/88 through Stratford.
- Most of VIA’s ridership resumption is leisure travelers. They are hoping for more business travel increase in the Fall when more train frequencies are planned.
- The new fleet enters into service in Fall 2022 and the new reservation system will launch early 2023.
- VIA is working with Metrolinx and CN on service improvements in southwestern Ontario. In contrast to Toronto-Quebec City corridor, there are no opportunities for a dedicated right-of-way, hence VIA must leverage current infrastructure with the track owners. VIA needs competitive travel speeds versus automobiles and reliable on-time performance.
- VIA wants to transform London into a regional hub, which would therefore provide more scheduling options for all of southwestern Ontario
- VIA is also aware of US interest on a Toronto-Chicago route, and are collaborating with Amtrak
- In response to a question about a late night departure from Toronto to accommodate sports/theatre attendees, Landry indicated that new frequencies would have to be provided by the track owners.
Mayor Holder also made some interesting remarks:
- As chair of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task Force, and working closely with other regional mayors such as Mayor Bradley(Sarnia), he is very aware that passenger rail is a huge issue in the region.
- London is the fastest growing Canadian city east of British Columbia.
In summary, the chat was a reaffirmation of information already out there and promised. TAO will continue to vigorously advocate for passenger rail improvements in southwestern Ontario.