Via Rail cuts means fewer trains to/from Windsor

From The Windsor Star:

Two local Via Rail workers will lose their jobs in cuts announced in June.

Via Rail is eliminating 200 jobs nationwide and reducing train service nationwide.

But Windsor Via Rail users were unconcerned Thursday about service cuts that will see four fewer trains coming and going from the area.

Windsor is losing the 5: 30 a.m. Toronto bound train on Saturdays and Sundays as well as the train that arrives from Toronto at 9: 50 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The cuts stem from a business review that identified areas that weren’t efficient and had low ridership, said Laurent Caron, Via’s chief human resources officer. The cuts start July 29. Train routes in Southwestern Ontario include some of the company’s poorest performing routes where customer demand is very low, said a Via document describing the cuts. There is the possibility of train service being restored if the ridership improves, Caron said.

“We want to allocate resources to areas where there are increases in ridership like the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle,” Caron said.

The tourism industry is concerned about the service loss, said Gordon Orr, president of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.

“At the end of the day, Via has made a business decision based on supply and demand,” Orr said. “Any good business evaluates their business plan.”

Via will still be a good corporate citizen in the community with the construction of a new train station, which is due to open in August, and still operating at least three trains a day to and from Windsor, Orr said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that once demand increases you’ll see more trains added to allow visitation to the region,” Orr said.

NDP MPs Brian Masse and Joe Comartin blame the Conservative government for the service losses because Via’s budget was cut by $41 million over three years in the budget.

“The cuts will only further undermine ridership when investment is needed to improve service,” Masse said in an email.

Gail Franklin, a frequent Via traveller, said Windsor got off easy compared to service reductions in other parts of the country.

“I don’t feel that these ‘cuts’ are that severe,” she said in an email. “We all know Windsor is still a car city (regardless of the current state of the automotive industry), so few people will care if a few trains are cut back. Those that will be affected (like myself) are in the minority.”

About 100 Via Rail passengers waited to board the 1: 45 p.m. train on Thursday and many said they weren’t concerned about the loss of service because most people said they rarely use the train.

Rebecca Tessier travels by train once a year to come to Windsor to visit her grandmother, who lives in Toledo. Tessier said she doesn’t travel much and when she does, she takes the bus.

Muriel Putterman takes Via about five times a year to visit her daughter in Toronto. Her children don’t want her to drive the long distance by herself. The train is perfect for her because her son-in-law works in downtown Toronto and picks her up when her train arrives around 6 p.m. and drops her off to catch the weekday 7: 35 a.m. Windsor-bound train. None of the trains being cut by Via impact her lifestyle.

Paul Friedrichsen takes the train twice a year to visit family. He prefers the train over a bus because it’s comfortable and has clean washrooms. He said the train is faster than taking Highway 401, although he doesn’t own a car.

Bob Cole may be symbolic of the declining ridership. He was headed to Kingston Thursday after visiting his sister in Windsor. It was the first time in 20 years he’s ridden a train. He said the distance is too long to drive and he gets to read his book, Pierre Burton’s The Great Depression.