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VIA Rail’s Massive Layoffs: Track to the Future?

By SHANNON KELLY

Photo: Canadian Pacific Railway

Let’s be real. In Canada, no one takes the train to get somewhere fast—or for the best price. A July weekend flight from Edmonton to Vancouver costs around $400 round-trip and takes 90 minutes. The same trip by train costs almost $100 more over 26 hours.

It’s no surprise, then, that VIA Rail, Canada’s national train service, would be floundering. But is sacking 200 people—nearly 10 per cent of its employees—and reducing services the answer?

The money VIA Rail is saving will fund some improvements to stations, refurbishments of trains and more “e-services,” all of which seem to be, frankly, the bare minimum of what VIA needs to do to keep its head above water.

VIA could be much more aggressive in attracting new customers by investing in its primary advantage over air travel: the chance to see Canada’s breathtaking natural beauty.

Retro is cool. (As long as it comes with Wi-Fi.) Riding the rails in late-19th-century, golden-era style could become all the rage and would set train travel apart from flying or driving. Imagine afternoon tea served on silver tea sets, luxurious bedding in private compartments, four-course dinners prepared by high-profile chefs and a swanky bar car for nightcaps. (This is, in fact, the successful business model of Royal Canadian Pacific trains.)

Or perhaps VIA could go the route of China’s Tangula Luxury Train, with a sleek and modern option.

With some forward-thinking improvements, taking the train could be a vacation in itself instead of a slight upgrade from the bus. And with the current price of train travel, VIA Rail needs something beyond the status quo to urge us to climb aboard.

 

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