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Yorkton Mayor part of effort to switch VIA Rail service route

The proposal prepared for the consideration of the Government of Canada is to alter the current route of VIA Rail’s The Canadian from its current route on the CN Main Line to the CN Prairie North Line through Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley (File Photo).

YORKTON - There is a plan afoot that if accepted and implemented would see Via Rail passenger service in Yorkton.

Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley said the idea is a simple one. The proposal prepared for the consideration of the Government of Canada is to alter the current route of VIA Rail’s The Canadian from its current route on the CN Main Line to the CN Prairie North Line through Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The overall report;  entitled ‘The Canadian on the CN Prairie North Line: A Strategic Solution, was prepared by Prairie North Rail Passenger Train Inc. out of North Battleford, suggests the proposed route would:

• compete with less CN freight traffic, helping VIA Rail to achieve better on-time performance and improve rail safety

• travel through larger population centres to reach more potential VIA Rail customers

• connect more Indigenous and rural communities

• travel closer to more National Historic Sites and National Parks

• offer more scenic topography

Hippsley who will meet with Mayors from Lloydminster, North Battleford, Warman and others this week, said the concept is one that has been promoted behind the scenes for some time.

“This was put on the track a number of years back,” he said, adding it has been picking up momentum. “Since I became mayor it’s become more prevalent.”

The service in the proposal is ‘The Canadian’ a transcontinental passenger train operated by VIA Rail Canada with service between Toronto and Vancouver using CN trackage.

According to the Prairie North report provided by Hippsley, “the train was introduced on April 24, 1955 by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and provided transcontinental service between Montreal, and Vancouver, through Regina, and Calgary, on the prairies.

On the same day, Canadian National Railways (CN) introduced its new transcontinental service, the Super Continental, with service from Toronto, to Vancouver, using the CN Main Line through Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton on the prairies.

The Super Continental route also incorporated the CN Prairie North Line from Saskatoon, to Edmonton, through North Battleford and Lloydminster, instead of the CN Main Line route through Unity, Sask. and Wainwright, Alta.

In 1978, VIA Rail, a federal crown corporation, assumed responsibility for CPR’s passenger services including the Canadian. In 1981, CN discontinued the Super Continental and since that time the Canadian has been the only transcontinental passenger train.

In 1990, VIA Rail moved from CPR trackage to the more northerly CN route, bypassing Regina, SK and Calgary, AB in favour of Saskatoon, SK, and Edmonton, AB. The new route used the CN Main Line exclusively and did not incorporate the CN Prairie North Line like the Super Continental.

Today, the Canadian operates twice per week. Train #1 departs Toronto on Wednesdays and Sundays and Train #2 departs Vancouver on Mondays and Fridays. The total journey takes about four days. An additional train operates once each week between Vancouver, BC, Edmonton, AB in the summer months.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Canadian operates only once per week.

Hippsley said the issue for VIA are extensive delays at present, their service often relegated to sitting on sidings as higher valued fright hauling trains use the line.

“They can be delayed up to two days,” he said.

The report notes, “VIA Rail attributes 85 per cent of the delays to freight traffic on CN’s rails. Through the prairies, the Canadian travels on a single track with short double-track sections called sidings built intermittently along the line to allow opposing trains to pass overtake one another.

The more traffic there is, the more the Canadian waits and its OTP worsens.”

It comes down to traffic with the proposed northern route which would include Yorkton experiencing far less usage at present.

“On the CN Main Line between Winnipeg and Edmonton, freight traffic is routinely over 40 trains per day, while the CN Prairie North Line sees an average of three-six trains per day on the line west of Warman. Traffic on the CN Prairie North Line between Warman and Canora sees even less traffic,” notes the report.

“This presents a strategic opportunity for VIA Rail to improve the OTP of the Canadian through the prairies by moving its route to the CN Prairie North Line. Less traffic will allow the Canadian to travel with fewer stops while waiting for opposing freight traffic to pass.”

Hippsley said something needs to be done before VIA is lost completely, which he added would be very unfortunate especially as STC and Greyhound bus service has been largely lost already.

The meeting this week will look to what the next step needs to be in terms of the continued lobbying for the change, he added.