Investigative reports dig deep into VIA 'Canadian' delays

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The 'Canadian' pauses at Collins, Ontario, in October 2018.
Bob Johnston
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia – An extraordinary five-part package of reports provides the most detailed examination yet of how Canadian National’s erratic handling of VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian has damaged the train’s ability to provide meaningful transportation across Canada. The reports were prepared by University of King’s College students enrolled in the small liberal arts school’s master of data journalism program.

Standing still,” leads off by focusing on how the Canadian’s unreliability has adversely affected Namaygoosisagagun First Nation residents at the otherwise isolated community of Collins, Ontario, causing them to miss medical appointments when the train is hours late.

The report then dissects delays and aspects of Canadian transport policy which tip the scales to grain customers while leaving VIA and its human cargo powerless to challenge CN’s operating practices. It also graphically details how the train’s schedule lengthening has done little to improve punctuality.

Accompanying “Standing Still” are links to the other package elements:
  • About Standing Still” describes the impetus for the project and how students exhaustively compiled the data
  • Beautiful views-unreliable schedule” interviews passengers who were affected by long Canadian delays in 2018
  • From jewel to afterthought” chronicles how government policy pushed passenger service into a steep decline
  • Fixing passenger rail” offers potential solutions from observers such as Nova Scotia resident and former Amtrak president David Gunn, who believes the Canadian’s twice-weekly operation this summer is “a disaster” because “it becomes irrelevant to the railroad."
Fred Vallance-Jones, an associate professor in the college’s journlism school who helped lead the project with multimedia assistant Jeff Harper, tells Trains News Wire that 11 students worked on the project.

“We did phone interviews (though CN and VIA chose to provide written statements), read a ton of documents, and analyzed the on-time data, (whose analysis) the class worked on together,” says Vallance-Jones. “We didn’t ride the Canadian ourselves, but spoke to many people who did.”

The “Standing Still” report contains a number of interactive maps, one of them detailing a Vancouver to Toronto trip by one couple showing how late train No. 2 became at each point where it was delayed along the route.
An eastbound CN freight meets the 'Canadian' in Ontario in 2018.
Scott A. Hartley
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