MONTRÉAL, May 31, 2018 /CNW Telbec/ - At the start of the year of its 40th anniversary, VIA Rail Canada (VIA Rail) transported more than one million passengers over the first quarter of 2018, an increase of 12.4% over 2017. The company closed the quarter with an 11% increase in passenger revenues, mainly due to the continued popularity of its intercity services on the Québec City-Windsor corridor (the "Corridor").
Over the period, the Corporation reached important milestones for the implementation of its modernization plan to lead Canadians toward a more sustainable future. Funds were allocated from the Government of Canada in its 2018-2019 budget for the acquisition of a new fleet for the Québec City-Windsor Corridor, and for the completion of studies toward the High Frequency Rail project, also known as HFR. These initiatives are key components of VIA Rail's plan to transform passenger rail service for Canadians through the control and operation of dedicated tracks to passengers and a new fleet of modern trains. HFR will provide communities within the Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal–Québec City corridor with improved scheduling, more frequent service, reduced trip times, and better on-time performance. In March, VIA Rail was recognized for its HFR project and received this year's award in sustainability at the 11th Global Infrastructure Leadership Forum. VIA Rail has also awarded renovation contracts for a part of its train fleet to remain the most accessible transportation mode in Canada and to better serve its passengers on its long-distance and remote services, which represents an investment of $138.4 million.
"From anniversaries and announcements to increases in ridership and revenue, VIA Rail has many reasons to celebrate in 2018. This is our 16th straight quarter of revenue growth, and ninth consecutive quarter of increased ridership. More and more Canadians are putting their trust in VIA Rail each year, we thank them for making the smart and sustainable choice to travel by train. We will continue to strive to find new ways to better serve our passengers. Thanks to the funds granted by the Government of Canada in both the 2017 and 2018 Budgets, our modernization plan aimed at engaging Canadians in a more sustainable future will continue to materialize. In 2018, and more than ever in its recent history, at VIA Rail the future is on board! "
- Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, VIA Rail President and Chief Executive Officer
1st Quarter Report Highlights
Celebrating VIA 40
2018 marks VIA Rail's 40th anniversary as an autonomous, Canadian Crown Corporation dedicated to passenger rail. Following the momentum of Canada 150, VIA Rail is once again leveraging its own equipment to encourage people to discover the country by train. It has adorned 41 of its train sets with the VIA 40 logo and colours alongside the motto "The future is on board", which supports its sustainable and forward-looking position.
Putting passengers first
Over the quarter, the Corporation continued to put an emphasis on improving the on-board experience through the revision of the culinary and the entertainment offering. New locally-sourced menu options were selected as part of VIA Rail's efforts to promote and support local products. VIA Rail employees also donned their chef hats once again during the "My Recipe in Business Class" challenge to create two savory dishes for passengers in the Corridor.
Travellers in the Québec City– Windsor corridor started to enjoy a podcast series, called C4C Conversations, which was added to the selection on the On Train Entertainment system. This series produced by researchers working on behalf of Challenge for Change presents conversations with passengers captured onboard over the summer of 2017. They offer an important window on what it means to be Canadian today. For the music fanatics in the Corridor, expertly-curated melodies were made available for free through the Stingray Music app, that highlight today's most popular artists with a special emphasis on Canadian content.
On-time performance (OTP)
Despite VIA Rail's best efforts to offer reliable service, OTP was challenged mainly due to severe weather affecting mechanical failures for both VIA Rail as well as host railway owners. Freight train congestion, which is beyond VIA Rail's control, and station delays also added to the lower OTP especially in Western Canada, where OTP deteriorated to the point where 73% of Toronto evening departures for Vancouver were postponed to the next day. In addition to customer dissatisfaction, these delays created significant additional costs to the Canadian service. VIA Rail has been taking several mitigation measures in order to limit the impact on the customer experience and on employees' work environment.
Strengthening VIA Rail's assets
In the first quarter, progress was made on infrastructure projects, including work on VIA Rail-owned track, bridges and signals for which $23.5 million was allocated. A further $11.5 million has been allocated for network improvements and other network projects, including a double trackage project in Ottawa for which preliminary work has begun.
Upgrades were made to Ottawa station to bring the building up to modern accessibility standards, as well as enhance its overall safety and security. At the Toronto Maintenance Center, investments in new systems have resulted in a more efficient servicing process.
Working together towards a sustainable future
Sustainable mobility is an integral part of VIA Rail and how it has always conducted its business. Over the first quarter of 2018, VIA Rail made the following progress on projects that are aligned with its sustainable mobility pillars:
Providing the Best Customer Service Experience
Better signage in stations | In order to improve the customer experience in major stations, VIA Rail is implementing digital signage to display departure information, travel advisories, amber alerts and marketing ads. Digital signage is currently available in Québec City, Ottawa and Kingston, and will be deployed in Montreal and Toronto over the course of 2018.
VIA: The blog | In order to provide even more varied travel ideas to travellers, VIA: The Blog began a collaboration with Passion Passport, a community of influencers and travel writers, who will be travelling by rail to different cities VIA Rail serves and sharing their journeys.
Promote Socio Economic Development
Promoting accessibility for the visually impaired | As part of its longstanding partnership with the Canadian Council of the Blind, a certification of appreciation was presented to VIA Rail for its sponsorship of White Cane Week, as well as the Visually Impaired Curling Championship.
Over the first quarter, in collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), CCB, and UIC, VIA Rail also began preliminary work on "Clear Station", an exploratory initiative that aims to make Ottawa station more accessible for the blind and partially sighted so that their travel experience is more autonomous.
Supporting Black History Month | VIA Rail transported over 200 young Canadians from the Children's Breakfast Club of Toronto to Ottawa as part Black History Month in February.
Strengthening ties with indigenous communities | The first quarter of 2018 has been pivotal in establishing new connections between VIA Rail and Canada's Indigenous communities. Thanks to its collaboration with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), VIA Rail continued working towards attaining the base level CCAB Progressive Aboriginal Relations Certificate. VIA Rail was also a partner of the 2018 edition of the Soaring Conferences in Winnipeg organized by Indspire, an organization whose mission is to empower and support Indigenous youth by providing them with educational resources.
Be an Attractive Employer
Celebrating Employee Accomplishments | Regional Distinction Awards, which allow employees to recognize their colleagues through peer-nomination, were held for a third consecutive year.
Promoting diversity | In February, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, represented VIA Rail on the international stage at the Diversity Brand Summit in Milan, Italy, an invitation he received based on his efforts and commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
VIA Rail's first quarter report is available at: https://www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail/governance-and-reports/quarterly-reports
About VIA Rail Canada
As Canada's national rail passenger service, VIA Rail (viarail.ca) and all its employees are mandated to provide safe, efficient and economical passenger transportation service, in both official languages of our country. VIA Rail operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking over 400 communities across Canada, and about 180 more communities through intermodal partnerships, and safely transports approximately 4.4 million passengers annually. The Corporation has been awarded five Safety Awards and three Environment Awards by the Railway Association of Canada since 2007. Visit the "About VIA Rail" section at: www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail.
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SOURCE VIA Rail Canada Inc.
For further information: Marie-Anna Murat, Media Relations, VIA Rail Canada, 1 877 393-8787, [email protected]