VIA shuffles 'Canadian' schedule for summer of 2019

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Bob Johnston/ TRAINS: Steve Sweeney
JASPER, Alta. — VIA Rail Canada will drastically alter the Canadian's train’s schedule and days of operation next spring and summer.

Beginning April 29, 2019, westbound and May 1 eastbound, VIA’s Toronto to Vancouver, B.C., flagship train will revert to tri-weekly service after the bi-weekly cutback ends, but only on the Vancouver to Edmonton, Alta., segment. East of there, the train will run twice weekly to and from Toronto.

At the same time, the interim schedule that has been in effect since this July will be adjusted to make sure passengers see Canadian Rockies scenery in daylight both east and west of Jasper. In a June interview with Trains [see “Reflecting on VIA Rail Canada at 40,” November issue], President Yves Desjardines-Siciliano left the door open to further changes in 2019 once the operator and Canadian National had experience with the hastily negotiated schedule, but he gave no indication that the frequencies would be reduced.

Summer consists in excess of 20 cars are typical, but patronage is heaviest on the Vancouver to Jasper segment. Rather than turn equipment either at Edmonton or Jasper, VIA typically deadheads it unstaffed to Toronto. Turning a whole train at Edmonton plays to the strength of the Canadian’s current sightseeing patronage.

But the new schedule drastically alters the train’s rural and intercity mobility usefulness for everyone else, especially at the major population centers of Edmonton and Winnipeg, Man. Trains has learned that that schedules at all intermediate stations are to be adjusted, pending negotiations between VIA and CN, so these times are likely to change.

Most curious is the decision to run the Vancouver to Edmonton section one day apart from the through transcontinental train, but this can be explained by commitments VIA had made to tour operators and groups a year in advance, because Tuesday out of Vancouver and Friday out of Jasper are the dates that had been locked in.

This scheduling move fully embraces the Canadian as a train whose continued livelihood depends on scenery tourism, and relegates basic transportation for the other communities it serves to an afterthought.

UPDATE: A VIA Rail Canada representative says the times for intermediate station stops must still be negotiated between VIA and Canadian National officials and that times reported by Trains are inaccurate. Trains stands by its original reporting. Oct. 5, 2018. 2:12 p.m. Central time.
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