VIA Rail Canada’s third-quarter 2020 results include an 86% drop in rider revenue and 82% decrease in ridership from the same period last year due to the pandemic. Total revenues for 3Q20 fell 84%, on a 79% reduction in capacity as travel demand plummeted. Total operating expenses decreased by 27.5%. (See chart below.)
VIA Rail reported that to help manage the pandemic’s financial impacts, it has taken these measures, among others: temporarily laying off unionized, management and professional employees; reducing “certain operating expenses in proportion with the level of operations,” publicity and advertising activities, and in-station services; and reducing administrative costs and postponing non-essential initiatives.
The savings, however, will “not be sufficient to offset the reduction in revenues,” VIA Rail reported, which is why it is “still in discussion with Transport Canada to obtain additional emergency funding.”
“We have had to make tough decisions over the past few months, and we recognize that these are difficult times for our employees, but our objective remains to reintegrate them as soon as customer demand allows it,” Chief Financial Officer Patricia Jasmin said.
The railroad also reduced its capacity for services in operation.
For the Québec City-Windsor corridor—a brighter spot for VIA Rail—service was at 46% during the third quarter. Revenues for the quarter fell by 82%, stemming, in most part, from 81.5% lower ridership, the railroad reported. But the corridor carried 236,000 riders—nearly all of VIA Rail Canada’s 246,000 total riders for the quarter.
VIA Rail’s Ocean and Canadian services have been shuttered since March, but the Canadian is scheduled to resume Dec. 11. Ocean service is suspended indefinitely.
Revenues on regional services fell 81% for the quarter. The Jasper to Prince-Rupert service resumed July 5. Since March 24 and as a result of the pandemic, the Winnipeg-Churchill service has been “operating with Economy class only and remains the only VIA Rail train service operating on a regular schedule,” the railroad reported. The Montreal-Jonquière, Montreal-Senneterre and Sudbury-White River services have been operating at one-third of their regular frequencies since March 23 because of COVID-19, according to the railroad.
“As the national passenger rail service, we have a responsibility to continue to provide our public service, despite the circumstances, while safeguarding the travel experience,” President and CEO Cynthia Garneau said. “We are very much aware that transportation is more limited in some provinces, and we remain focused on relaunching services in Eastern and Western Canada.”
On-time performance also declined during the quarter, “due mainly to work on third-party infrastructure which resulted in slow orders and delays, but remains, on a year-to-date basis, still in line with last year’s level,” VIA Rail reported.
“Our mission to put our passengers first remains,” Garneau said. “While we continue to navigate this global health crisis, it is now more important than ever to look ahead. During this third quarter, we continued to advance on our modernization, including our flagship project: High Frequency Rail (HFR), a large-scale and environmentally friendly endeavour, for which we are hopeful to receive a favourable response by the end of the year. However, this vision that we have for sustainable travel in Canada would not be whole without the building blocks of the HFR project, namely the Corridor Fleet Replacement Program and the Heritage Program. By providing state-of-the-art trains, improved comfort and interior design, along with tracks dedicated to the transport of our passengers, VIA Rail will transform passenger rail service in Canada.”
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