It is nice to have something that I can agree with coming from this government. The cries of the aviation sector for funding are understandable but where is that poor GO DOG GO Greyhound? They aren't even barking!
Ottawa boosts spending to get Via Rail back on track
The Canadian Press
October 11, 2007 at 7:30 PM EDT
Toronto — The federal government is investing $691.9-million into Via Rail over five years to refurbish passenger train service, in a move that garnered praise from union officials but angered airport and travel groups, who say they're not getting a fair treatment.
The cash injection was touted as “totally new” and the “largest capital program in the history of Via Rail,” by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Thursday.
He announced the plan at Union Station, a major hub for local subway, GO regional rail service as well as Via Rail, along with Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon.
The funding, Mr. Flaherty said, “will improve the sustainability and reliability of the passenger rail services across Canada and provide more frequent, faster cleaner and safer services along the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.”
Mr. Cannon said rebuilding the existing locomotive fleet will allow Via Rail to achieve its emission targets as well as “improve fuel efficiency and provide travellers with faster and more reliable service.”
The announcement uses similar language to a 2003 investment in Via Rail announced by Jean Chrétien's Liberals but rescinded by the government of former prime minister Paul Martin, who succeeded Mr. Chrétien.
Via receives about $170-million in annual operating subsidies from the government but has been struggling with aging equipment and capacity problems since the reversal. Still, it has managed to increase ridership to about 4.1 million passengers last year from about 3.8 million.
David Jeanes, president of rail group Transport 2000 Canada, said he was happy that the investment will allow Via to rebuild its locomotive fleet and sleeping cars as well as improve accessibility for disabled passengers. But he said further funding is needed.
“We're not looking here at enough money to bring Canada up to the standard of the industrialized countries that have true high-speed rail,” he said.
“We're really talking about incremental improvements: state of good repair, dealing with the growth in ridership that Via is seeing today.”
The plan drew praise from Buzz Hargrove, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and frequent critic of Mr. Flaherty's attitude toward the struggling auto sector.
Mr. Hargrove said the announcement was “great news” for 3,000 CAW members who work at Via.
“The amount of money is significant. It's very meaningful in terms of the ability of Via Rail to refurbish its current equipment as well as buy new equipment, and the yearly -running monies for the next five years is absolutely critical,” he said.
“I never thought I'd say anything nice about Jim Flaherty, but I will today.”
Air travel groups were less positive.
Sam Barone, chief executive of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies, called the announcement “an insult to the hard-working Canadians who fly for work, to visit family or take a hard-earned vacation.”
“We simply can't understand why air passengers are getting ripped off while rail passengers are getting the royal treatment.”
The Canadian Airports Council also decried the investment, saying the government keeps focusing on the rails while turning a deaf ear to the aviation sector's concerns.
“Canada's civil aviation sector already suffers a serious competitive disadvantage to other modes of travel and airports across the border in the U.S. due to airport rent and other forms of high taxation,” CAC CEO Jim Facette said in a statement.
“Canada's airports generate economic some $30-billion in economic output and employ more than 150,000 people while facilitating international and domestic trade and tourism. To pump millions of dollars into a competitor is inexplicable.”
Of the government's total funding package, $516-million in capital funds will be allocated over five years for infrastructure improvements and equipment refurbishments, beginning in 2007.
It will be targeted toward fleet renewal, through refurbishment of Via's locomotives and passenger cars, strategic infrastructure improvements to eliminate bottlenecks in the Quebec City to Windsor, Ont., corridor as well as station refurbishments.
The remainder of the funding — $175.9 million over five years — will be used to sustain Via's national network until the capital program is completed.
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