Via Rail needs new leadership, John Baird says

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is calling for new leadership at Via Rail after a series of malfunctions at level railway crossings in his Ottawa neighbourhood, calling rail company's actions "unacceptable."

Canada's foreign affairs minister reacts after railway signal malfunctions in Ottawa

Netherlands' Minister of Foreign Affairs Frans Timmermans looks on as Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird answers questions during a news conference Friday May 2, 2014 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is calling for new leadership at Via Rail after a series of malfunctions at level railway crossings in his Ottawa neighbourhood in recent months.

Baird made the call on Twitter Thursday night, saying he has lost confidence in the acting head of the Crown corporation, Steve Del Bosco.

He then elaborated on the tweet at a news conference Friday, saying he isn't satisfied with both the malfunctions and the way the company has been communicating with the city and public.

“Via’s actions have been unacceptable, the people of Nepean deserve better," he said.

"If you can’t operate the technical capacities of a rail crossing let alone the simple engagement with the public in an honest, transparent and expeditious basis, I don’t think you’re qualified to run the railways.”

Baird said he had asked Via a few weeks ago to address the issues and was told by Del Bosco the acting head would take personal responsibility if it wasn't done.

Final straw came this week

For months, warning signals at several crossings in Barrhaven have repeatedly malfunctioned. The crossings are close to where six people were killed when an Ottawa city bus collided with a Via passenger train in September last year.

The signal problems and the site of the fatal bus-train collision are located in the federal riding next to Baird's Ottawa-West Nepean seat, but Baird has made it known he wants to run in the next election in the new riding of Nepean, which encompasses the Barrhaven area.

Baird said the "final straw" came this week when Via Rail mistakenly accused local Ottawa transit buses of causing recent signal malfunctions at a crossing near Baird's home.

Via later admitted that the rail signal problems were not caused by OC Transpo buses.

A government source told The Canadian Press Baird has expressed his concerns to both Del Bosco and to the minister responsible for Via, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

Friday, Baird said to "watch in the coming days" for news on Via's leadership.

In a statement issued by her office Friday morning, Raitt said she understands Baird's concerns and said her office has discussed the matter with the chair of Via.

"We expect better from Via going forward," Raitt said in the statement.

Via declined to comment and turned down a request for an interview.

With files from The Canadian Press