May 19, 2021

VIA Rail in 2020: a year marked by resilience, crisis management and focus on modernization


From January 1st to December 31, 2020

  • Ridership decreased by 77% in 2020 compared to 2019
  • Operating expenses decreased by 21.2%    
  • Essential services maintained during the pandemic
  • Continuous implementation of preventive measures in response to the pandemic
  • Sustained progress on VIA Rail’s modernization program


MONTRÉAL, May 19, 2021 – After a remarkably difficult year, VIA Rail Canada (VIA Rail) reflects in its 2020 annual report on the unique challenges it faced, and on its responsible and efficient response to the significant disruption in its operations stemming from blockades and the COVID-19 pandemic. VIA Rail experienced in 2020 a 77% drop in ridership and a decrease of 80% in passenger revenues compared to 2019.

“Last year, VIA Rail faced more challenges than it ever had in its 43-year history. As we adapted our operations, procedures and processes in order to manage the impact of the consecutive crises, we remained focused on serving Canadians by maintaining essential services and operating our national passenger rail service. We would like to thank the Government of Canada for its support and guidance during these trying times. Despite the blockades and the pandemic, our passengers showed an unwavering trust in our services and the measures we put in place, hence demonstrating the importance of passenger rail. As we keep dealing with COVID-19, we are committed to regaining the confidence of Canadians by offering a safe, accessible, sustainable and comfortable way to travel. This is the hallmark of the VIA Rail experience, and we look forward to welcoming back more and more passengers as soon as the situation allows it,” declared Françoise Bertrand, Chairperson of the Board of Directors.


Adapting services while protecting the health and safety of all

2020 was marked by the continued adaptation of our services. VIA Rail had to suspend most of its operations due to the blockades in February and then continuously adjusted its services according to the evolution of the pandemic while striving to offer an essential service. Throughout this situation, VIA Rail has been following the guidance and recommendations of public health authorities and has since March implemented preventive measures, including the reduction of its capacity on board its trains, to protect the health and safety of its passengers and employees.

“In 2020, teams across the organization had to adapt quickly to an ever-changing environment,” said Cynthia Garneau, President and Chief Executive Officer. “From our schedules to COVID-19 measures, the health and safety of all were always at the heart of our decisions. While we regrettably had to temporarily reduce the size of our workforce due to this extraordinary situation, I would like to thank our employees who, whether it be in stations, on board our trains, in our maintenance centres or in our administrative offices, have been delivering an exemplary service throughout this pandemic. Their dedication and agility are the reason Canadians still chose to “love the way” in these unprecedented times.”

As a result of the pandemic, VIA Rail was forced to suspend some routes and is aware that transportation options have become more limited in certain areas of the country. The Corporation will continue to adapt its operations according to the evolution of the health crisis and is committed to resuming full service across Canada as soon as the situation allows it.


Managing the financial repercussions of COVID-19

VIA Rail took steps to ensure the responsible management of its operations and the public funds allocated by the Government of Canada. The Corporation implemented a series of measures including, amongst others, the reduction of some of its operating expenses in proportion to the level of operations as well as temporary layoffs. As such, VIA Rail recorded in 2020 a 21.2% decrease in operating expenses.  


Acting today for a better tomorrow

Despite the difficulties faced in 2020, VIA Rail moved forward with the implementation of its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan which establishes the values and priorities that drive a modern, accessible and sustainable passenger rail service.  The Corporation also reviewed and updated its sustainability strategy which focuses on updated approaches and initiatives that reduce VIA Rail’s impact on the environment, enhance its role as a responsible mobility provider, and create lasting value for Canadian society.  

“As the national passenger rail service, we have a responsibility that goes beyond simply offering transportation to Canadians. Indeed, we aspire to positively impact the lives of those around us by acting today for a better tomorrow. 2020 was an important year for VIA Rail as we completed the foundational work to truly embed sustainability in all our operations moving forward. The challenges we faced over the past year only strengthen our commitment to help build a more sustainable and mobile Canada,” said Ben Marc Diendéré, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer.

Continuing to improve the travel experience of our passengers with disabilities was also a key priority in 2020. In fact, VIA Rail took important steps towards accessibility by launching its first Universal Accessibility Policy and completing 18 projects under its three-year plan and the Canadian Transportation Agency's (CTA) Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations, which came into effect last June.


Providing Canadians with a modern passenger rail service

“Modernization is one way of ensuring that we always go further together. Last year truly demonstrated the limitations of the current transportation system in Canada. As such, we moved forward with our key modernization projects which will contribute to creating a more connected and modern country and enable VIA Rail to better serve current and future passengers. These projects will not only allow us to contribute to playing a key role in the fight against climate change, but also to meet the changing needs of an increasingly mobile population. Through the renovation of an aging fleet, the arrival of state-of-the-art trains in the Corridor starting in 2022, and our High Frequency Rail project, we will convince more and more Canadians that VIA Rail is the smarter way to travel. As we look ahead, our commitment to transform passenger rail service is stronger than ever, and we cannot wait to show what we have in store for the future of sustainable mobility,” concluded Cynthia Garneau.


VIA Rail’s annual report is available at:


About VIA Rail  

As Canada’s national rail passenger service, VIA Rail ( and all its employees are mandated to provide safe, efficient and economical passenger transportation service, in both official languages of our country. VIA Rail operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking over 400 communities across Canada, and about 180 more communities through intermodal partnerships, and safely transported over 5 million passengers in 2019. The Corporation has been awarded nine Safety Awards and three Environment Awards by the Railway Association of Canada since 2005. Visit the “About VIA Rail” section at