VIA Rail Looking for $4 Billion Investment for Frequency Instead of Speed

VIA Rail is planning a $4-billion project by the end of the year to build high-frequency electric-hybrid trains between the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. The hope is that the project will begin construction next year and be ready for 2019. The funding will come from the Federal government and the private sector.

The promotional is for more frequency instead of speed. Apparently, it no longer makes “economical or practical” sense to build high speed trains.

So here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of a high speed versus high frequency.

High Speed

The obvious positive of high speed is to arrive at the destination faster. However, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration.

First of all, VIA Rail is a transportation system that caters to a lot of small towns between the corridor in question, which slows down the trains anyway to pick up and drop off people along the way.

If there was going to be a high speed train, it would mostly be beneficially if there was a direct downtown to downtown service between the cities. Otherwise, if there are many stops needed along the way, then a high speed train only shaves off a small amount of time, which may not be enough time to justify taking the train instead of the plane.

For high speed trains to survive in this corridor, they would need to take a significant market share of the existing airline industry, along with the bus service. For this to work out, they would need to keep the cost low to compete with the buses and offer a more convenient and faster service than airplanes.

Is this doable? It’s going to be really tough. Which is why I understand why the train industry chose a different route.

High Frequency

What I like a lot about this proposal is that it is going to be more green friendly. That’s a big plus already for me. Increasing the frequency would definitely help. I always felt that there was not enough frequency in VIA Rail’s service. So they are for sure losing a lot of clients on this factor.

First of all, I do not believe that increasing the frequency will help compete against the airlines. Granted trains are cheaper than planes, but to really take market share away from the airlines, trains need to offer a more convenient and faster service than the existing one. Furthermore, some low cost airlines are really bringing down the price, so the competition is heating up against VIA Rail.

Whether VIA Rail admits it or not, I see a lot more potential for VIA Rail to take clients away from the buses, rather than airlines. Currently, one of the biggest reasons why so many people rather take the bus over the train is because of the cost. If the cost was equal or lower on the train than the bus, then I can’t see the bus industry surviving.

The trick is how to lower the cost of travelling by train. I don’t see how a $4 billion bill is going to help reduce the cost to passengers. The money has to come from somewhere.


I am all for revamping train service in Canada, as they have an opportunity to either take market share away from airlines and/or buses. But they need to be careful of the approach they take, because it can go in reverse, and they lose clients instead.

Since they do not plan to go with the high speed trains, they are really trying to compete with bus service instead. If VIA Rail decides to go ahead with this project, I really do hope that they have a plan to reduce the cost. If the cost per ride starts creeping up instead, they will be losing clients in every direction.

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