Stratford Gazette editorial
It was just under two years ago that a spokesperson with VIA Rail Canada assured the Gazette the company was committed to spending millions of dollars to improve the infrastructure of its London-Kitchener-Toronto corridor to, among other things, strengthen its capacity for additional trains.
Though that may have seemed like a bit of wishful thinking even then, last week’s announcement that VIA Rail is cutting service across the country – including reducing the number of passenger trains to and from our city to only four beginning in the fall – still came as a surprise.
The move follows the federal government’s decision to cut its VIA Rail spending by $6.5 million this year and another $34.7 million over the next two years. Two hundred full-time employees, representing nine per cent of VIA Rail’s workforce, will lost their jobs as a result of the cuts.
With what money it does have, VIA Rail plans to upgrade tracks, stations and trains to increase service to those routes that are in high demand, such as between Toronto and Montreal. But ask anyone who regularly takes the soon-to-be-axed morning train out of Stratford and they will tell you its full by the time it rolls into Georgetown. How much more demand could there be?
So where does this all leave the many Stratford and area residents who rely on rail service on a day-to-day basis? Many passengers will have to alter their morning commute to ensure they arrive to work on time in Kitchener-Waterloo or Toronto. As for heading home on VIA, they’re left with one option, the 5:40 p.m. train out of Toronto. Miss it, though, and they’re out of luck.
If the brass at VIA Rail hope to build ridership across the country in the years to come, they sure have a funny way of thanking their dedicated customers.
The move is also troubling for city officials who recognize the important role rail service plays in attracting tourists and business-minded people wanting to start or move a family outside the big city.
VIA Rail says its changes better reflect customer demand – but what they fail to note is that the London-Toronto corridor has tremendous growth potential (according, at least, to a 2009 GO Transit environmental assessment) – but it would require the company to make a serious investment to upgrade the line. An improved line would mean faster-moving trains and, presumably, improved service overall, which is sure to appeal to commuters looking for a break from stressful highway trips and rising gas prices.