Canada isn’t a nation renowned for its public transportation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve it.
VIA Rail is the only train travel company in the country and receives public funding, yet consistently doesn’t deliver. The lack of competition keeps prices high and inaccessible to many Canadians, while the company itself isn’t held accountable for delays.
With VIA Rail as the only option for train travel, plus government subsidies and no competition, there’s little economic incentive to improve service.
Besides being unreliable in terms of punctuality, VIA Rail is unreliable in terms of frequency and reduced services. There’s some consistent train service within Quebec and Ontario, but east of Quebec, there’s virtually nothing—and there aren’t many alternatives, either.
We need expanded train networks to meet the needs of Canadians across the country.
One of the big problems with VIA Rail is accessing train stations. It’s a non-issue for Torontonians within subway or walking distance from Union Station. However, most people who must drive to the station would probably rather just drive to their destination.
From the student perspective, travelling to and from home on the train is not ideal in the system’s current form. Many students without their own vehicles use bus services like Megabus and the Tricolour Express and find them more convenient.
If you’re an out of province student using public transportation to get to the airport, it’s difficult to rely on trains. They often take longer and aren’t as punctual as bus services or driving; students could benefit from a more efficient train service connecting university towns to Pearson.
Currently, the only real incentive to travel by train is the fact that it’s more sustainable than driving. Unfortunately, when the more sustainable choice is financially inaccessible, people aren’t likely to choose it—especially students on a budget.
Expanding access to train travel is an important climate action in which the Canadian government should invest. Trains are a greener alternative to car and plane travel but aren’t being used to their potential. Setting a flat rate based on distance and deregulating the train travel industry may help improve services.
The idea of expanding train service seems simple enough, but it has its challenges.
Strict regulations around the procurement of land for tracks are hard to navigate and therefore make expansion difficult. Government regulations haven’t kept up with our changing society—that needs to change before we can see expanded train service.
Oil companies have a great interest in keeping Canadian society car-centric and are effective at lobbying the government. Car infrastructure is better maintained and funded; it will take a willing administration and creative thinking to overcome the hold car travel has on our society.
Right now, the infrastructure doesn’t exist to accommodate more train travel; government investment is needed to build more tracks before service can significantly expand.
Taking the train is only so inconvenient because our lives are structured around car use, but train travel has potential here despite our vast geography. Canada has tens of thousands of kilometres of railway, most of which is used to transport goods.
There’s work to be done, but train travel—with some investment—could improve the lives of Canadians, bring down transportation costs, and reduce traffic congestion.
We should work towards a society optimized for sustainable travel methods.
—Journal Editorial Board
climate, public transportation, train, Travel
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