May 31, 2022
Q1 2022: RESILIENCE THROUGH OMICRON AND SETTING THE STAGE TO GET BACK ON TRACK
From January 1st to March 31, 2022
• Continued schedule adjustments in response to the fifth wave of the pandemic
• Ridership increased by 233.2% compared to the same period in 2021
• Operating expenses increased by 25.7 % compared to the same quarter last year
MONTRÉAL, May 31, 2022 – The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to be felt in the first quarter of 2022 as the Omicron variant took hold across the country plunging Canada into a fifth wave and forcing VIA Rail Canada (VIA Rail) to be flexible in its operations once again. Despite those challenges, ridership increased 233.2% compared to the same quarter last year, largely because of the adjustments made to service levels to accommodate an increase in demand as the quarter progressed.
“One of the key elements to managing the effects of the pandemic over the past 2 years has been the ability to adapt, and that was certainly tested in the first quarter of 2022,” said Marie-Claude Cardin, Chief Financial Officer. “As provinces began closing schools, gyms, bars and restaurants in response to the spread of the Omicron variant in January, our teams adapted quickly to the rapidly evolving situation, adjusting services throughout the quarter in line with demand.”
Like other passenger transportation providers, VIA Rail remained significantly affected by the pandemic in the first quarter of 2022. Although the Corporation has increased its levels of operations since the beginning of the pandemic, they remained at 60% of their pre-pandemic levels by March.
Minimizing the financial impacts
VIA Rail continues to rigorously manage its operating expenses, which increased by 25.7% primarily due to the increase in service levels in the Corridor throughout the first quarter of 2022, higher market fuel prices, and increased network access charges from host railways.
The Corporation continued to implement various cost-saving measures including:
• The reduction of some of its operating expenses in proportion to the level of operations.
• Reduction of administrative costs and the postponement of nonessential initiatives.
Setting the stage for service resumption
As demand for travel gradually increased throughout the quarter, and in line with VIA Rail’s commitment to returning services across the country when conditions allow, VIA Rail gradually increased Corridor frequencies. On March 1, 2022, 82 weekly train departures were added to the 163 we were operating in the Corridor, paving the way for additional frequencies scheduled to return to service from coast to coast to coast as planned in June 2022.
New Fleet advances with winter tests
VIA Rail reached important milestones in its modernization program which include, amongst others, the Québec City-Windsor corridor Fleet Replacement Program. In January, the first trainset of VIA Rail’s new Corridor Fleet continued its rigorous winter tests, including a shunting test (see video). The purpose of this test is to ensure that all systems on the tracks are functional. As safety is VIA Rail’s number one priority and is at the heart of all our decisions, the shunting test detects when a train is present on any given section of a track and then activates the signaling systems, which is vital to ensuring security at crossings.
High Frequency Rail (HFR) next steps announced
In March, the government of Canada announced that it was advancing the HFR project proposed by VIA Rail in 2016, with the launch of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI). This RFEOI will inform the next stages of the procurement process which will allow the Government of Canada to find the best partner for HFR. As part of this next phase and bolstered by its 45 years of experience and expertise, VIA Rail will play a critical role throughout the project as underscored by Minister Alghabra during the announcement. As VIA Rail continues its efforts to serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast through its service resumption plan and the advancement of its modernization program, we look forward to working with the federal government and collaborating with a private sector partner to deliver HFR.
Fulfilling our promise on accessibility
In February VIA Rail was proud to be the first federal organization to table its 2022-2025 accessibility plan with the Government of Canada under the Accessible Canada Act. Driven by the mindset that it’s time to create a barrier-free travel experience from reservation to destination, the Corporation is determined to be Canada’s most accessible national and intercity mode of transportation. VIA Rail’s multi-year plan charts the course for a more accessible and inclusive experience for employees at work and for passengers along their journey with, for example, the creation of American Sign Language (ASL) and la Langue des Signes Québécoise (LSQ) videos on VIA Rail’s website, and an accessible procurement process to incorporate accessibility early on in decision-making before projects are launched.
VIA Rail’s 2022 first quarter report is available here.