VIA shutdown meets opposition

Year Published:  1989  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX3644

Abstract:  The federal Progressive Conservative government's decision to slash train service in half (with a possible complete shutdown of passenger rail service to come) has met with widespread opposition. Critics of the VIA system, who have the ear of the government, have said that VIA's continuing deficit ($600 million in 1988) is an argument for abandoning passenger rail service. However, defenders of rail transportation make a number of strong arguments. They point out that VIA was originally set up by the government in such a way as to guarantee it would lose money. VIA was carved out of CP and CN, but CP and CN were given ownership of all of the system's track and stations, and VIA has been forced to pay huge sums to 'rent' the use of the tracks, while having to put up with its trains being delayed to accommodate freight traffic. VIA was also saddled with outdated rolling stock, and has never been given the capital to invest in modern equipment. VIA's loss figures are also greatly inflated because the government requires it to service remote locations which are inevitably money-losers. Rail supporters also point out that air and road traffic receive huge hidden subsidies, such as government-financed roads and airports, many of which are already stretched to capacity. And they note that car and truck exhaust fumes are major sources of pollution, including acid rain and ozone layer depletion, while rail is much less polluting.
Critics of the VIA cuts are also challenging the undemocratic way the decision is being implemented. The government made no mention of cuts during the last election campaign, although they were already being secretly planned at the time. Now it is pushing them through by executive order without holding hearings or passing legislation, using a controversial legal manoeuvre to circumvent the due process laid out in the National Transportation Act.
About 2,800 VIA workers will lose their jobs, together with about 5,500 in other companies directly dependent on VIA.
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