Transport 2000 Canada Hotline

2 March 2001


This is the Transport 2000 Canada Hotline for 2 March 2001, David Leibold reporting.

1 - VIA's first President and CEO dies

Frank Roberts, the first President and CEO of VIA Rail Canada, died 21st February. His death did not become public knowledge until 28th February. Transport 2000 joins with his family, friends and past associates in expressing condolences for this loss. Many observers consider Roberts to be the best leader in VIA's corporate history.

2 - CN sells share of Detroit River Tunnel

Canadian National Railways has agreed to sell its half stake in the Detroit River Tunnel to Borealis Transportation, a trust controlled by Ontario pension fund OMERS. Canadian Pacific Railway, which owns the other half, will become the tunnel's sole operator. By agreement, CN will still be allowed to run trains through the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor. CSX and Norfolk Southern will also have access to the tunnel.

CN will concentrate on its cross-border tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron. CP is allowed to run up to 14 trains each week through CN's tunnel.

3 - Federal Auditor finds problems with NAV Canada start-up

The Auditor General of Canada released a report on the federal government's operations in late February.

In the few transportation-related items, the Auditor General expressed concerns about the deal that created Nav Canada, which put the nation's air traffic control system into private ownership.

The report noted that Transport Canada valued the air traffic control assets at $2.4 billion. The federal government received only $1.5 billion for these. Pension liabilities and high transfer costs were also noted, as was the lack of proper financial assessment of the deal.

The Auditor General did give the federal government credit for its handling of the Confederation road bridge project. The report noted there were adequate safeguards involving the contracting and commercial risks for the highway link with Prince Edward Island.

Auditor General's website:

4 - Acela: The New AMTRAK Northeast

Following is John Olson's account of the Acela:

Acela will soon be a brand to reckon with. The daily Acela express service between Washington and Boston leaves Washington early for a noon hour arrival in Boston with an afternoon departure from there for a late evening arrival in Washington. In March the second of 20 sets will be in service. But Acela is more. Current Northeast Direct and Empire services will become known as Acela Regional and they will extend from Washington to Boston as well as New York to Buffalo. Acela Commuter will be the new brand for the Clocker services between Philadelphia and New York. Acela express will take over from the Metroliner. It will be the Acela brand all the way.

The Express service features the new high speed trains built by Bombardier. These have First and Business Class. In First -- as on VIA 1 -- food is served on china at the seat. Passengers will have access to the First Class lounges in the main cities. Business Class passengers have access to an express cafe. The one way fare in business is USD$143 for NYC-Washington and USD$120 NYC-Boston. These are competitive with air shuttle fares.

Watching the Acela arrive in Boston's South Station recently at noon, I was struck by its light-weight look and sleek businees-like shape up front, and with arrays of high tech equipment visible behind the doors at the coach ends. The train was a half hour late and snow covered testifying to a travel day in which there had been flight delays due to severe storms. The coaches are tightly sealed at the vestiblues when the train is in action but were open in the station. Top speeds of around 150 mph are planned. Interior decor, lighting, window size and seating looked highly inviting especially when compared to the Amfleet coaches of the nearby Lakeshore Limited which to be fair was leaving for Chicago with a handsome Viewliner in the consist. The Acela Regional Service -- Business and Coach class -- uses remodelled equipment including a newly redone Cafe Car. The business class has wide seats and extra legroom. The Acela Commuter is coach only and passengers can buy a monthly pass.

We will see something of Acela Express kind of quality equipment when the recently purchased Nightstar stock goes into service with VIA.

More information about the Acela services and recent news can be found at

5 - Deadly UK train crash

Yet another rail disaster in the UK, as a GNER passenger train collided into a freight train 28th February. On Friday, the death toll was reported to be 10, down from initial reports of 13 deaths. The crash occurred at Great Heck, 320 km north of London, on the Edinburgh-London line.

An unlikely chain of events led to disaster. The driver of a Land Rover and trailer first failed to maintain control then drove off highway M62. The road vehicle stopped on the tracks where the driver could not move it off. Then the passenger train hit the vehicle, and derailed into an oncoming freight train.

A crash on the same line in October 2000 killed four at Hatfield after a derailment there. 31 died in another UK rail crash in 1999.

6 - Rail Articles of note

The February issue of Railway Age contains an article entitled "How Light Rail Pays Its Way In Dallas". For most of the first half of the 20th Century, Dallas had the Texas Electric interurban line. After years of over-reliance on automobile facilities, rail transit has made a comeback.

The American Public Transit Association also contributed an opinion article in Railway Age entitled "Commentary Of The Month: Taking The Rail Transit Case To Congress", to promote the growing support of rail transit modes in America.

Railway Age's website is

7 - Mexican trucks in Canada

Highway safety group CRASH noted in a recent press release that the North American free trade regime clears the way for Mexican trucks to operate in Canada. The different safety culture and language of Mexico's trucking industry, combined with proposed longer trucking hours in Canada, could result in added risks on Canada's highways.

8 - Taxi terror

Taxi driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in Canada, a point underscored by a current crime spree against cab drivers in Ottawa. At least five taxi robberies occurred in the Nation's Capital in the past week alone. Drivers have long called for governments to increase their protection and put an end to the field day criminals are having against this important service of the passenger transportation system.

9 - Calgary transit strike continues

As of the Hotline date, the Calgary transit strike is in its second week, and indications are that it will be lengthy. Current reports are that serious differences remain between transit management and workers.

10 - Ontario road building is all the rage

On 1st March, the government of Ontario announced new studies to lead towards construction of several superhighways throughout the province. Due to the massive expenses of such construction, this may consist of additional toll roads.

The province's Transportation Minister said, "A modern transportation network is vital to continued prosperity in Ontario". Yet this network will exclude passenger transportation options. The province also cancelled transit operational support, leaving that task to city governments.

11 - Ottawa suburban station planned

David Collenette, the federal Transport Minister, announced in the House of Commons that Ottawa could soon have a new suburban VIA station, in the same manner that Guildwood station serves as a Toronto suburban stop.

The Minister's statement follows years of work by MP David Pratt who has pushed for a train stop in Barrhaven, southwest of Ottawa Station along the Ottawa-Toronto route. The stop location would likely be next to the new bus transitway station recently opened on Fallowfield Road.

12 - VIA Rail Nightstar dispute

VIA Rail will challenge the Canadian Transportation Agency in court over whether it can order VIA to stop renovations to its newly-purchased Nightstar cars. A notice of appeal was filed 23rd February regarding the CTA's order 22nd February calling on VIA to stop work on the cars. The CTA wants to inspect the cars itself, and make a ruling on whether these can be made sufficiently accessible.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities lodged complaints with the CTA weeks ago, shortly after the deal to purchase the Nightstar cars was announced. VIA currently has no accessible sleepers, and Transport 2000 believes the new cars are an improvement on present rolling stock.

Transport 2000 Canada will continue to watch this matter closely, and make statements and actions as appropriate.

13 - Some BC buses return to service

An update to the last Hotline: BC Transit announced 1st March that it will be replacing radius rods on its fleet of New Flyer low floor buses, and should have them all back in service within weeks. In the meantime, accessible bus service will be unavailable in several British Columbia communities.

14 - Metro on Montreal Metro

This past week, Montreal subway commuters saw their first issues of Metro, part of an international chain of newspapers geared towards the transit market. Metro began a Toronto edition last year, and was joined by two similarly styled papers operated by major Toronto dailies.


Thanks to John Olson, Peter Warwick and the National Office for additional items this week.

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