Southern Ontario mayors meet with Via to voice concerns
No city officials took the train to the meeting and Via president had to take a car from London
Mayors from Windsor, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia are part of a group that met face-to-face with the president of Via Rail in London on Thursday.
The mayors are banding together in hopes of seeing some of the cancelled passenger trains restored. They're unhappy with recent service cuts.
The mayors tried individually to resolve their concerns, to no avail. They hope that by coming together, they may have more clout.
Sarnia's Mike Bradley said there's been a pattern to the Via cuts, and the politicians don't like where it's leading.
"They make these cuts. They defend them as a business decision, but they're not running the business in a manner that would grow the business," Bradley said. "They're running it in a manner that, we believe as a mayors' group, in the long term, they're only interested in having passenger rail service between Quebec City, Toronto and Ottawa, in that triangle."
Bradley said every other major country in the world is expanding in rail, but Canada's service is shrinking.
Coincidently, none of the mayors took the train to London because of what Bradley called "a dysfunctional schedule."
"I would've had to get up at 5 o clock, be at the station at 6 o'clock. I would've got here [in London] at 7 o clock in the morning, sit for two or three hours and finish this meeting at noon," Bradley said. "I would've had to wait until 9 o'clock at night to catch the only train back to Sarnia."
Not even Via's president took the train to and from the meeting. He rode the rails from his Montreal office to London but then drove to additional meetings in Toronto because a train wasn't available.
Bradley said such schedules are to blame for low train ridership. Still, the head of VIA rail told the mayors all cuts to service are going ahead as planned.
London Mayor Joe Fontana said passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario is of vital importance and they want Via to understand that.
"We're not not just going to stand by and have them again — like I fought the battle 22 years ago — have them cut service to an area where, in fact, London is the fourth busiest terminal across the country."
Via did not confirm Fontana's claim.
Bradley said cuts to service have turned the national dream into a national nightmare.
His city had four trains a day 20 years ago. Now, there's just one. Bradley thinks that train could be gone within a couple of years.
Windsor terminal upgraded
In Windsor, a revamped terminal is set to be unveiled in September. Under construction for more than a year now, it was supposed to open Thursday.
Via spokesperson Malcolm Andrews said everything inside is ready to go. But rain delayed finishing touches outside.
"What remains to be done externally is some of the prep work, paving, that type of thing, for the access to the new station by our customers," Andrews said. "And that's what our contractor was unable to complete due to inclement over the past few days."
Andrews says if all goes well, the new station should open to the public sometime next week.