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Home / VIA’s Ocean to resume once-weekly round trips in August

VIA’s Ocean to resume once-weekly round trips in August

By | July 12, 2021

Montreal-Halifax, N.S., train will mix Renaissance and Budd equipment

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Passenger train with dome-lound-observation at rear
Passenger train with dome-lound-observation at rear
The Ocean departs Halifax in July 2010, with a Park car on the rear and a Renaissance baggage car serving as a buffer immediately preceding it. The train will return with a revised consist. (Bob Johnston)

MONTREAL — VIA Rail Canada says it is relaunching its last suspended route on Wednesday, Aug. 11, when the formerly triweekly Ocean departs Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Montreal for the first time since March 2020. The overnighter’s first eastbound return is set for Sunday, August 15.

Service is finally resuming as a result of “progressive reopening of provinces and the recent developments related to health measures in the region,” according to a company statement released Friday.

As previously announced, the latest Ocean iteration will be a mix of European-designed Renaissance all-bedroom sleeping cars; a Renaissance diner flanked by two service cars with snack bars, lounge space, and accessible bedrooms; and Budd-built stainless steel equipment (designated by VIA as HEP-1 and HEP-2) dating from 1955. These will include economy coaches, a Chateau sleeper for the onboard service crew, and a baggage car.

An empty Renaissance baggage car will also be in the consist to act as a safety buffer between the two equipment types; it would prevent telescoping of the sturdier Budd cars into occupied Renaissance cars should there be a derailment. The car formerly was positioned to provide passage to additional Chateau cars, which have duplex roomettes, bedrooms, a drawing room (VIA’s “cabin for 3”), and a rear-facing Park dome-lounge-observation sleeper.

Inside of sleeping-car bedroom
The interior of a Renaissance car bedroom on the Ocean. The bed is perpendicular to the window. (Bob Johnston)

However, because VIA lost access to a loop track it does not own at the Port of Halifax, the train can’t be turned at the stub-end Halifax station. VIA is at least temporarily withdrawing the Park rather than running it in one direction next to the locomotives, which will operate back-to-back and run around the consist at Halifax for the return trip to Montreal. Since seats in Renaissance coaches can’t be turned, this is also the reason the HEP-1 stainless steel coaches are substituting.

A VIA spokesman confirmed to Trains News Wire that unlike on the Canadian, where breakfast and dinner are served in the diner, meals for sleeping car passengers “will be provided in-cabin only, and will have to be eaten in cabins.”  As is the case on the Canadian and corridor trains, coach passengers can order food at their seats from carts, but lounge space is off limits.

A reservation system advisory does offer this caveat:  Due to COVID-19, we have had to make changes to our on-board services and overall experience. While full inventory remains available on these trains after Oct. 1, 2021, as we approach the date, we will update customers as it becomes clear what service will actually be possible based on the evolution of the pandemic.”

In last week’s statement, VIA President and CEO Cynthia Garneau says the “gradual return to service in the region” is necessary because “to follow and respect guidelines and recommendations from public health authorities and provincial governments, we could not provide our passengers the service and frequencies offered under normal circumstances.”

The service resumption follows the pattern VIA has chosen over the past year with all routes outside the Quebec City-Windsor, Ont., corridor, where the company has periodically restored additional daily frequencies. Other services, such as the Toronto-Vancouver, B.C. Canadian and remote-service trains operating in rural British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec are still running only one weekly round trip.

The exception is VIA’s Winnipeg-The Pas-Thompson-Churchill, Manitoba, service, which has maintained its pre-pandemic schedules to serve rural communities without other surface transportation options.

Communities served by the overnight Ocean have roads but few public mobility choices, so the train’s prior six-day-per-week or triweekly schedules more closely resembles what VIA has been offering in Manitoba rather than on the Canadian’s four-day, multi-province journey. It is likely the Ocean’s long-term health and relevance depends on how quickly VIA can restore more frequencies.

8 thoughts on “VIA’s Ocean to resume once-weekly round trips in August

  1. Can someone furnish details of “lost access to a loop track that it does not own?” No more loop track, or contractual issue?

    1. The Company on whose land the loop track sits on (Halterm) will be removing it to build more shipping equipment.

  2. The Port operator in Halifax leased the loop to VIA and has plans to remove it for a redesigned access to the piers. How such an essential piece of infrastructure was allowed to be sold off to a non-rail operator is emblematic of the indifference to VIA of the mandarins at the Ministry of Transport–but also is symptomatic of the passivity of VIA management too. They knew for years this was coming. The fix could/should have been either a government “taking” of the loop, or finding the funds to reinstate a wye within ten miles of Halifax. There were and still are several locations where this could have been done. It is also worth noting VIA could assign a Skyline mid-train dome to the OCEAN to keep dome service. As long as the diner and lounge remain off limits this is irrelevant, but eventually riders will be able to leave their seats or rooms.

    1. Another option could be to build a wye or loop track in a small yard on the other end of town. Of course, unless there is a will to improve service in Atlantic Canada, it is not worth doing.

  3. I doubt if most regular passengers care about the dome obs. car. It certainly is not worth the legal hassles to try and take private property nor the expense of building a wye several miles from the station. Most people (except for railfans) take the train to get somewhere and are not going to cancel their trip due to the lack of a lounge car. Besides, the people in the Maritimes have been without a train for some time now and have probably figured out how to get to their destination via other transport options so it may be awhile before patronage returns to what it once was. But, thanks for the explanation guys. I was wondering what the reason was for the removal of the wye. Increased shipping facilities are more important.

    1. On the topic of the dome, it served as the main train lounge. The Renaissance Lounges are cramped and uncomfortable, but once again, I do not think it will lead to major revenue or passenger drops.

      If you ask me, had VIA been running the Ocean six days a week, and perhaps adding along some corridor trains to Turo and Moncton, riders would have put up a fight about building a wye or saving the loop. The Ocean is simply too weak and meager to meaningfully matter in the scope of transportation policy and planning.

      There is a small, lightly used rail yard on the other end of town from the current VIA Station. A wye or perhaps even a new, small, station could. be built there.

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