Regina–Lewvan MP Erin Weir proposes to restore VIA Rail service to the southern prairies in response to Greyhound’s withdrawal from the region.
The Conservative government of Brian Mulroney slashed VIA Rail, eliminating the southern prairie service from Winnipeg through Regina and Calgary in 1990 in favour of maintaining service to more remote communities along the northern prairie line.
“The Conservative justification for removing VIA Rail service from Regina, Calgary and the southern prairies was that other transport options were available here,” noted Weir. “The elimination of inter-city bus service undercuts that justification and increases the need for VIA Rail on the southern prairies.”
VIA Rail’s 2017 annual report (page 9) indicates that its current subsidy for longhaul travel between Toronto and Vancouver is 32 cents per passenger mile, in line with 28 cents per passenger mile across VIA’s entire network (and far below the $3 or $4 per passenger mile currently spent providing service on several more remote routes).
Given somewhat greater population density on the southern prairies than on the northern prairies, restoring service on the Winnipeg-Regina-Calgary line should not cost more than the existing service on the Winnipeg-Saskatoon-Edmonton line. The total subsidy for all longhaul service west of Toronto was $41 million in 2017. The cost of extending that service to the southern prairies would presumably be similar, and quite modest relative to the annual government funding of $350 million for VIA Rail.
“If the federal government is going to invest in inter-city transit, it only makes sense to use an existing federal Crown corporation,” said Weir. “Expanding into the southern prairies would be viable for VIA Rail and would significantly offset the loss of Greyhound bus service.”