VIA Rail at a Crossroads: Privatization Could Derail Canada’s Public Transport Legacy

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|March 04, 2024

As we approach the end of 2024, the gears of change grind along the tracks of VIA Rail Canada, signaling a possible end to its journey as a public entity. What's at stake is not just a railway but the soul of public transportation in Canada, as a portion of VIA Rail is set to be handed over to private operators—without a sale price, but with a treasure trove of public investments and a 50-year profit guarantee.

This move echoes the siren calls of privatization from around the world—calls that have often led to a myriad of public woes: skyrocketing fares, diminishing routes, and a workforce left in the lurch. We need only to glance at the outcomes in countries like the UK and South Korea to understand the potential consequences of such a paradigm shift in public transportation policy.

The environmental argument for maintaining a robust and publicly funded rail service has never been stronger.

To bring the gravity of this issue into sharper focus, let's look at the numbers. The government is poised to transfer new trainsets, valued at a staggering $980 million of taxpayer investment, to a private operator. This handover includes a profit guarantee spanning half a century, a move that may have long-lasting implications on public access and pricing.

Across the country, the shadows of service cuts have already started to fall. Since 2019, we've seen a 33% reduction in service on the iconic Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto, a 15% cut corridor-wide in Ontario and Quebec, and even complete discontinuations in key commuter services. This is the reality of a pre-privatization landscape, where the public interest is shunted to the sidings in favor of private gain.

As Canadians, we must question the trajectory we're on. Privatization is more than a policy shift; it's a fundamental change in how we value public goods and services. If we allow this course to go unchallenged, we risk not only our current public rail system but also the environmental and social progress it represents.

As we unpack the realities behind the looming privatization, Unifor questions the direction of our national policies and the legacy we're setting for future generations.The tracks are laid, but the destination is not yet determined.

By adding your voice to the parliamentary petition and reaching out to your MPs, you help ensure the right course is set for the future of VIA Rail.

Share this message, sign the petition, write your MP and let's mobilize for a passenger rail system that remains a public treasure, not a private commodity.


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