“Despite the upheaval caused by the pandemic, we have successfully pursued our strategic plan, including the unveiling of our new fleet and the advancement of the High Frequency Rail project,” VIA Rail Canada Board Chair Françoise Bertrand said upon release of the railroad’s 2021 Annual Report.
(Scroll down for a PDF download of the report.)
Pre-pandemic, VIA Rail operated more than 450 trains per week across Canada, serving 5 million-plus riders on a network of approximately 7,767 miles (12,500 kilometers; see map below). In early 2020, “this volume essentially ground to a halt and gradually increased to reach 1.1 million passengers and 227 million passenger miles by year end,” according to the VIA Rail 2021 Annual Report, which was issued May 10. “By the end of 2021, we were able to welcome a growing number of passengers back on board, with 1.5 million passengers representing 327.1 million passenger miles, while keeping strict health and safety guidelines in place across the network.”
Following are 2021 Annual Report highlights:
• VIA Rail said it “achieved its goal of staying on budget within the funding allocated to the corporation by the government of Canada, benefiting from an increase of 31.9% in ridership and of 54.3% in passenger revenues compared to 2020.”
• Operating expenses decreased by 3.2% compared with 2020.
• The first Siemens trainset of the new Québec City-Windsor corridor fleet was delivered “on time and on budget” for testing and unveiled in November.
• “[H]eadway was made on both the Heritage Program and the new reservation system which will provide passengers with a more seamless, convenient, autonomous, and personalized experience before, during and after their journey,” VIA Rail reported.
• In 2020, VIA Rail “reviewed its policies, practices and sustainability priorities to inform the development of a five-year sustainability plan, which progressed steadily in 2021, and which will embed environmental, social and governance performance in all VIA Rail’s operations.”
Financial, Operating Results
“Like many companies in the transportation industry, VIA Rail continued to face the impacts of the various waves of the pandemic,” Chief Financial Officer Marie-Claude Cardin noted in the 2021 Annual Report. “Nonetheless, as we have always done over the past two years, we found ways to strike a balance between our important public service mandate while proactively managing the financial impacts on our operations.”
Following are charts of the railroad’s financial and operating results:
“The results of the fourth quarter  improved compared to those of the previous quarters, as customer demand increased, and frequencies were reintroduced,” according to the VIA Rail report. “This encouraging trend was however stopped at the end of December with the Omicron wave which resulted in a reduction of service in January 2022.
“There consequently remains uncertainty with regards to the evolution of the pandemic and the emergence of additional waves and new contagious variants of the virus. Management therefore continues to adjust service levels and frequencies in line with passenger demand so that incremental revenues are optimized, and costs associated to the increased services are limited. The reintroduction of frequencies in non-corridor services which do not all cover their costs will however increase the corporation’s deficit and could result in a funding shortfall for the next government fiscal year (2022-23). Management is closely monitoring the situation and is in communication with Transport Canada concerning potential additional funding requirements during this unprecedented and sustaining situation.
“In the meantime, management continues to work on the implementation of initiatives to minimize operating costs. In parallel, the corporation is pursuing its transformation as work is advancing on its strategic projects such as the Fleet Replacement Program, Heritage Program, High Frequency Rail (HFR) and the new reservation system.
“On March 9, 2022, the government of Canada announced the future phases of the High Frequency Rail (HFR) project, and informed VIA Rail of the upcoming creation of a subsidiary, creation which shortly will be officialized by an order in council. Management was not provided with additional details pertaining to the subsidiary and is therefore not able to assess the associated financial impacts.”
For more on the 2022 outlook and beyond, read “For VIA Rail, an Existential Crisis” and “Two Years After COVID: Amtrak Lags, VIA Rail Hopes.”