|VIA Rail reduces service on Northern Manitoba route
VIA Rail has announced plans to reduce service between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba starting in December. The Crown
Corporation says it will operate two trains a week instead of the current three to the polar bear capital and the land-locked
Northern Manitoba communities along the way.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spencer says that VIA Rail's decision is a blow to the community of 1,000 located on the shores of Hudson Bay.
He points out there are no roads to Churchill, a plane trip to Winnipeg is expensive and reduced train service will give residents
even fewer options. It takes close to 43 hours and costs $165 to travel by train from Churchill to Winnipeg. A plane ride reduces
the time to about two hours, but costs three times as much.
VIA says it can operate two trains a week more efficiently, safely and on time.
Bob Chernecki, the Assistant to the CAW National President Ken Lewenza, sent an email to the Mayor of Churchill expressing the
Union’s concerns with this announcement. Chernecki explained to Mayor Spencer that the CAW is absolutely opposed to this
decision and will assist in whatever manner the Union can in convincing VIA and the Federal Transport Minister John Baird to rethink
Chernecki spoke this morning (November 12th) with senior officials at VIA concerning this matter and raised concerns not only on
the cuts on service to Churchill, but the fall out in which VIA employees and CAW members would be laid off as a result. The Union
is preparing a written complaint to Transport Minister Baird.
The CAW represents the vast majority of VIA Rail workers across the country.
Churchill's town council has sent a letter to Transport Minister Baird complaining about VIA's plans.
“That's a darn disappointment,” Mr. Spence said to the Canadian Press. “We're not going to let that go easy. Not everyone can
afford to buy a plane ticket. It's so costly.”
VIA Rail spokeswoman Catherine Kaloutsky said providing service three days a week “did not reflect the real operating time you
needed to operate from Winnipeg to Churchill and have a layover with proper rest for the crew ... and equipment inspected.” Trains
were often late because of weather, problems with the tracks or equipment, she said, and cancellations meant communities would
end up with just two trains a week anyway. “All things factored, what can we realistically provide in terms of reliable service?” Ms.
Kaloutsky said. “It's not realistic for us to have thrice weekly (trains),” adding that reduced service will be more reliable.
But Mayor Spence suggests problems with weather and equipment won't go away, so if there are cancellations now, Churchill could
be down to one train a week. “It's a step backwards.”
Mr. Spence said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who was in Churchill this week for the Olympic torch relay, and local MLA Eric
Robinson have promised to go to bat for the town.
Mr. Spence said $60-million is being invested to improve the rail line and train running times are getting better.
“We all know this is an international destination, and we can't forget about local folks.”
Just last week, Gary Doer, former Manitoba Premier and now Canada's ambassador to the United States, invited U.S. President
Barak Obama and his family to Churchill to see the polar bears.
The CAW is currently in negotiations with VIA for a new collective agreement. The current agreement expires on December 31,
2009. The CAW and VIA will continue negotiations next week in Montreal, where representatives of the CAW will meet with officials
from VIA to discuss the reduction to service in Northern Manitoba.