Canada Wants to Give VIA the Right-of-Way Over Freight

The Rail Passenger Priority Act would give VIA Rail trains preference over freight trains, much like Amtrak has over U.S. freight trains. Photo by Steve Barry. 

Canada Wants to Give VIA the Right-of-Way Over Freight

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

New legislation in Canada would give VIA Rail passenger trains priority over freight trains of Canadian National and CPKC Railway. 

In December, the Rail Passenger Priority Act was introduced in Parliament to amend the Canada Transportation Act to state that any time a passenger train and a freight train need to use the same rail line, passengers get to go first. In order to promote the proposed legislation, one of its backers, MP Taylor Bachrach, rode VIA Rail from Toronto to his hometown of Smithers, B.C., in December, to show just how delayed Canada’s passenger trains were due to freight. 

“Right now people are avoiding the train because they can’t get to where they need to go with any sense of consistency,” Bachrach told CBC News. 

VIA Rail officials have praised the proposal and said it would be a major help to their operations. But representatives of the freight rail industry were less excited and urged the government to proceed with caution and not negatively impact the movement of freight that is critical to the economy. 

“Any passenger service proposal must demonstrate that freight capacity to handle current and future anticipated volumes can be preserved, which is essential to support Canada’s economy,” said Marc Brazeau, CEO of the Railway Association of Canada, in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press. 

South of the border, Amtrak trains have priority over freight trains, although that doesn’t always work out in practice, as seen by the current dispute between the passenger railroad and Union Pacific over its handling of the Sunset Limited. 

This article was posted on: January 3, 2024