Steve Sammut: Passengers, tourism, must be considered in railroad discussions

Guides on the Rocky Mountaineer are well-informed about local history and the natural beauty travellers see along the journey. Rocky Mountaineer

With the May 2018 amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, the Canadian Transportation Agency initiated its first official investigation into a level-of-service dispute between shippers and railways in the Vancouver area. The two-day hearings took place in Vancouver on Jan. 29 and 30 and the discussion clearly focused on the movement of freight in and out of the region.

It is important to appreciate that the railways provide a valuable service in delivering imported goods to our local communities. On a daily basis, tons of everyday household goods such as clothing, computers, smartphones and fresh produce enter the Port of Vancouver and are then transferred onto freight rail destined to communities throughout Canada. This frequently gets lost in discussions relating to rail service, as the focus is generally on Canadian products bound for export, such as grain, lumber, oil and minerals. The Canadian economy is dependent on the efficient movement of goods both to and from our international trade partners, which benefits all Canadians.

The railways are important to Canada’s global competitiveness. In the Pacific Gateway of Vancouver, we are fortunate to be served by three of the best railways in the world — Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and BNSF railways. On average, CN and CP’s freight trains travel 1,500 kilometres and consist of 120 rail cars. It is remarkable to consider that these trains can carry one ton of freight an impressive distance of 200 kilometres on just one litre of fuel.

In addition to transporting freight by rail, it is also important to acknowledge the role the railways play in transporting people.

Canada is a vast and sparsely populated country, and outside of connecting major population centres like Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal, the business case for passenger rail doesn’t support the significant investments required to acquire land, and build the track, bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure needed. Here in the Vancouver area, passenger rail services such as Rocky Mountaineer, Westcoast Express, VIA Rail and Amtrak could not exist without the infrastructure provided by the Class 1 railways.

Rocky Mountaineer operates on both CN and CP tracks between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies and has done so for almost 30 years, showcasing the hospitality and natural beauty of Western Canada to our guests. We have experienced numerous circumstances in which we relied on the support of our railway partners to help us deal with weather or operational issues, and we couldn’t have asked for better partners.

More recently, we have initiated rail tours between Vancouver and Seattle on BNSF tracks and, similarly, their level of professionalism and service has been exceptional. We recognize that the railway’s primary business is to move freight, but we can’t leave our guests idle on a rail siding for very long before our service and reputation are negatively impacted. All three of our railway partners understand this, and we sincerely appreciate their co-operation, support and exceptional customer service in responding to the needs of our guests.

So, while the current CTA discussions and debates centre on CN, CP and BNSF meeting the service levels of shippers, we hope it is remembered these three Class 1 railways also provide an invaluable service in sharing their infrastructure with passenger rail and transit operators to enable the efficient movement of millions of passengers every year.

We couldn’t be successful without them, and appreciate what they do.

Steve Sammut is president and CEO of Rocky Mountaineer.

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