News & Reviews News Wire Bill introduced in Parliament to give VIA trains right of preference

Bill introduced in Parliament to give VIA trains right of preference

By Trains Staff | December 18, 2023

| Last updated on February 2, 2024

MP from British Columbia promotes legislation with cross-country train trip

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Passenger and freight train meet at junction
A Toronto-bound corridor train from Montreal encounters a Canadian National local freight on June 12, 2018, at Brockville, Ontario. A new bill seeks to grant passenger service right of preference over freight trains. Bob Johnston

OTTAWA, Ontario — A member of Canada’s Parliament from British Columbia has introduced a bill to create a right of preference for passenger trains on the nation’s railroads — the lack of which has long hampered VIA Rail Canada operations.

Taylor Bachrach, a House of Commons member of the New Democratic Party from the riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley — a district representing roughly the northwest quarter of the province — introduced the bill last week. Bill C-371 would amend the Canada Transportation Act to require preference for passenger trains — and sets a maximum penalty of C$250,000 for each violation.

“Right now, people are avoiding the train because they can’t get to where they need to go with any sense of consistency,” Bachrach told the CBC. The broadcaster reported the MP was making his 4,500-kilometer (2,800-mile) trip home to Smithers, B.C., for the holidays by train, rather than flying, in part to “experience the state of passenger rail in Canada” and in part to build support for his bill.

“I’m pretty familiar with the passenger train the Skeena in northwest B.C.,” Bachrach told the CBC, “but this is going to give me a chance to talk to passengers and communities right across the country about a vision for Canada catching up to the rest of the world and having a viable passenger train service, which we don’t right now.” (The Skeena —officially no longer known by that name, but simply VIA trains Nos. 5 and 6 — runs between Jasper, Alberta, and Prince Rupert, B.C.)

VIA CEO Mario Péloquin called for a statutory right of preference — similar to the one granted to Amtrak — earlier this year [see “VIA Rail Canada CEO calls for …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 23, 2023]. At that time, CEO Marc Brazeau of the industry trade group Railway Association of Canada cautioned that “any passenger service proposal must demonstrate that freight capacity to handle current and future anticipated volumes can be preserved,” while John Corey, president of a shippers’ group, the Freight Management Association of Canada, said passenger priority would be “the tail wagging the dog. Freight railways, their customers, and Canadians in general would be subsidizing the few people using the rail passenger system.”

Passenger train at station with mountains in background
VIA’s train formerly known as the Skeena stops at Smithers, B.C., on Aug. 10, 2015. A legislator from Smithers has introduced a bill seeking to give passenger trains operating right of preference. Bob Johnston

6 thoughts on “Bill introduced in Parliament to give VIA trains right of preference

  1. Would it really make a difference ? Amtrak’s preference has been as about has effective as a restraining order.

  2. The NDP introduced the bill. Trudeau’s (neo) Liberals head a minority government and is deferential to corporations. This ain’t gonna happen.

    1. The Liberals have a vote supply agreement with the NDP. The bill might pass if the NDP party likes the idea and is willing to leverage the vote agreement.

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