ICF's Bruce says Via Rail 'very close to bad-faith bargaining

AUGUST 16, 2013
The gloves are off in the bid for a new Vancouver Island passenger rail service agreement. The Island Corridor Foundation has tipped its hand in negotiations for an agreement with Via Rail, the service provider.
The service halted in 2011, due to declining track conditions.
Talks toward a new agreement have been stalled since the ICF submitted a proposal in April.
That proposal would relieve Via, the Crown corporation responsible for passenger service, of obligations, such as maintenance, staffing, marketing and ticketing.
Via previously had to pay the difference between service costs and income, an open-ended agreement that cost as much as $1.9 million in annual subsidies.
ICF proposes taking over Via’s old duties, while fixing Via Rail’s annual subsidy at $1.8 million.
In exchange, ICF wants at least 158 Budd car seats – Via proposes 102 seats – and a one-time, $6-million rail infrastructure investment.
Until now, the ICF has kept those details under wraps out of respect for the negotiating process. The body, which represents 29 Island communities and First Nations, is now losing patience with Via Rail’s refusal to consider the proposal.
“I think they’re very close to bad-faith bargaining,” said Graham Bruce, ICF executive director.
He said Via urged ICF to get creative in its proposal, yet Via’s only response has been that to renew a service identical to the old agreement, which had trains starting and ending each day in Victoria.
That isn’t even possible now, the Victoria train station and maintenance yards have since been torn down.
ICF wants the train operator, Southern Rail, to get the flexibility to operate passenger trains.
Ridership on the E&N Railway, which Via classifies as a remote line, grew six per cent annually through 2010, “and keep in mind that’s and old line and equipment.”
During that time Via Rail’s subsidy to the E&N worked out to 34 cents per passenger mile, which was the average amount for all passenger rail in Canada.
Via’s subsidies to other remote lines were $1.44 per mile.
Via “is negotiating in good faith, but we’re a Crown corporation and we can not dig our feet deeper in the red,” said Via Rail spokesman Jacques C. Gagnon.
“We don’t necessarily have the same view of what would be the required investment.”
DBellaart@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4235
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