Via Rail to slash 200 jobs in wake of federal cuts
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012 10:34AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:17AM EDT
Via Rail is cutting its workforce by 200 full-time positions, or nine per cent of its workforce, as part of efforts to "better meet customer demands."
The eliminated positions will be unionized jobs, the rail operator said in a statement.
In the statement, Via said the cuts were part of ongoing modernization efforts to make the company more efficient, technically advanced and competitive.
Via will also be upgrading tracks, stations and trains, and providing better customer service and new online options for customers, said Via Rail President and CEO Marc Laliberte.
"Adjusting our services to better align with customer demand is an important step of our modernization -- making sure we offer the right level of service to meet customer needs today, and building capacity to serve more customers in markets where demand will grow in the future," Laliberte said.
Routes that are in high demand, such as between Toronto and Montreal, will be expanded to offer more scheduled departures. Via will continue to service remote areas where it is legally mandated to provide transportation options, the statement said.
"We are not eliminating rail service on any routes where we operate today and we are maintaining the flexibility to adjust service levels in the future, as customer needs evolve."
Via said ridership on some lines is dropping. This includes "The Ocean," which travels between Montreal and Halifax, where passenger volumes have dropped by 50 per cent over the last 15 years, the company said.
As a result, the frequency of return trains between Montreal and Halifax will be reduced to three times per week.
However, Jennifer Brown, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Local 4005, questioned Via’s numbers, saying demand is up by 7.8 per cent since last year and by nearly 25 per cent in the peak season.
"So where they're getting their numbers we don't know,” she told The Canadian Press. “I work on board, and from January, my trains have been sold out.”
Brown, who works on the Montreal-to-Halifax line, also questioned Via's marketing efforts to attract more passengers to lines that are supposedly underused.
"We don't see any marketing down here in the East to get more people out to travel by train," she told the wire service in an interview from Halifax.
In addition to the Montreal-to-Halifax line reductions, the trip from Toronto to Vancouver will be reduced from three to two times per week in the fall and winter off-season.
And Via will reduce the number of trains in Ontario cities where GO Transit and other regional carriers provide additional options.
The coming cuts also had transportation proponents questioning how the decision fits with Canada’s long-term transportation strategy.
"While the rest of the G20 nations invest heavily and wisely in expanding their rail passenger services, Canada's long-standing policy of cutting Via continues," Harold Nicholson, president of Transport Action Atlantic, told The Canadian Press.
"These cuts are wrong to the core and the destructiveness of this latest round will soon become apparent, much to the detriment of the more than four million passengers who use Via annually,” he said.
In the statement released Wednesday, Via said its annual attrition rate has been on average eight per cent, and the company has slashed its management workforce by 15 per cent since 2009.
The recent federal budget cut funding to Via by $6.5 million for 2012, $15.1 million in 2013-14 and $19.6 million in 2014-15.
With files from The Canadian Press