The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

VIA Rail: The Canadian and human way to travel

Canadians are increasingly concerned about mobility. Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and Chief Executive Officer of VIA Rail, highlighted the achievements of the organization, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and detailed its vision for the future during his speech at the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.
 
Here are three key points to retain from his speech.

VIA Rail: A source of pride for Canadians by Canadians

To begin, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano emphasized that VIA Rail is a service provided by Canadians for Canadians. Its main objective is to transform the way Canadians travel across the country by offering a personalized and inclusive service, whether for business or pleasure, or for the 500,000 students who use the Québec-Windsor Corridor or an aging population.

“Although VIA Rail is a transportation company, in many ways it’s also a hospitality business. VIA Rail doesn’t only do rail transportation, it also provides a warm welcome and outstanding service that makes passengers feel good when they travel with us,” said Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, President and CEO of VIA Rail.

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A public service that must meet taxpayers' expectations

However, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano believes that VIA Rail can do better, and even more so because it is a public service. This is why, in the fall of 2018, the company announced investments on the order of $1 billion to modernize its equipment and acquire a new fleet of trains to replace the 160 cars and 40 locomotives operating in the Québec-Windsor Corridor. This ambitious operation should be completed by 2024.

According to Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano, this is but a first step and the company will have to continue in this enterprising vein. The next step will be to deploy a high-frequency passenger rail network that will better meet Canadians' intermodal needs than a high-speed train network would.

Moreover, VIA Rail would like to complete what Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano describes as a “major unfinished project”:

“Canada has a large network of railway beds that are either abandoned or hardly used by freight trains. VIA Rail proposes to take it over and repurpose it for the exclusive use of passenger trains. Doing so would cost $4 billion and would take four years to complete, unlike the high-speed rail project, which would cost more than $22 billion and require a much longer 12-year period,” said Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano.

A significant impact on our fight against climate change

Finally, Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano argued that public transit must now serve a greater social objective: the fight against climate change, which must be central to any public policy.
 
The field of automotive transport is a good example. It currently accounts for 41% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The deployment of a better rail public transit system, which Mr. Desjardins-Siciliano is hoping for, would enable Canada to cover nearly 1.5% of it’s commitment made at COP21. In concrete terms, such a measure would represent a reduction of 13.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The President and CEO of VIA Rail concluded on an inspiring note by quoting Jacques Brel and inviting the business community and government to be daring:

“I wish you an endless list of dreams and the furious desire to make some of them come true.
I wish you to love what must be loved and to forget what must be forgotten.
I wish you passions, I wish you silences.
I wish you bird songs at dawn and children's laughter.
I wish you to respect people’s differences, because the value and merit of each often remains to be discovered.
I wish you to refuse a stalemate and the indifference and negative virtues of our time.
And I wish you to never give up on the search, adventure, life, love, because life is an incredible adventure and no reasonable human being should renounce it without putting up a fight.
I wish you most of all to proudly and happily be yourself, because happiness is our true destiny.”

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