Nova Scotia

Via Rail talking new routes between Halifax, Moncton, Campbellton

Via Rail Canada is considering launching new regional routes to service Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and in particular, a route from Moncton to Halifax.

Moncton to Halifax, Campbellton to Moncton route would run first thing in the morning, return in the evening

Via Rail is discussing plans to introduce regional routes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick while continuing to maintain the Ocean route between Halifax and Montreal. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Via Rail is considering launching new regional routes to service Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and in particular, a route between Moncton and Halifax.

Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, Via Rail's president, says the new routes allow for tailored regional needs while maintaining its Ocean route between Halifax and Montreal. 

"We appointed a general manager who is a local native of Halifax, Susan Williams, back in January," said Desjardins-Siciliano.

"And so through her, understanding the market, we've been able to develop a plan for the regional markets." 

The proposals are being considered for next year. He says a Moncton to Halifax route would run first thing in the morning and return in the evening.

In New Brunswick, a new route would service points between Campbellton and Moncton, also in the morning and evening. 

Via Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano is looking for ways to boost ridership and reduce need for federal subsidy. (CBC)

The "long haul" Ocean route would continue three days a week, he says. 

"If we could get Maritimers to choose Via for a third of their trips within the service area that we service today and those that we will plan to service next year, it would be a very successful business," Desjardins-Siciliano told CBC's Maritime Noon. 

"Still not profitable, still subsidized — but a more useful business and popular business."

The new routes are afforded by increased revenue and ridership on the corridor between Quebec and Windsor, Ont., on which 73 per cent of Via's passengers are repeat customers. 

That extra cash can offset the subsidies that are keeping trains running in the Maritimes, he says. 

For every dollar that a passenger pays to ride on Via in the Maritimes, the federal government gives a two-dollar subsidy, Desjardins-Siciliano explained.

For a ticket to ride between Halifax and Montreal, the taxpayer pays $480. 

Rail relevance

Desjardins-Siciliano says in the Maritimes, Via's pricing is currently stuck between a rail and a hard place. 

"You can't charge for a train ticket what an airline would charge when your ride is 20 hours compared to one hour and a half flight time. And you can't charge as low as a bus, obviously."

New regional routes give the service flexibility to break out of that pricing predicament.

He says frequency of service can be adjusted more easily on regional routes. But the big picture goal is to become more relevant.

"That is the challenge. We need Via to be more relevant to people so they use it more often. And it's kind of self-feeding. If they use it more often, you have more services available." 

He says if the plan goes forward then Nova Scotians are still the "author of their own destiny." In other words, if you want a robust passenger rail service in the the region, he says, buy a ticket. 

"You can make a difference by choosing the train."