Via Rail expects to cut 200 unionized jobs, or about nine per cent of its workforce, as the government-owned passenger rail service reduces trips on lines across the country.
Although the move announced Wednesday comes in the wake of the federal government’s March budget which cut $41-million in subsidies to Via over three years, Via insists the trip reductions and job losses are driven by weak off-season demand.
But Jennifer Brown, president of CAW Local 4005, said that demand is up by 7.8 per cent since last year and by nearly 25 per cent in the peak season.
“So where they’re getting their numbers we don’t know. I work on board and from January my trains have been sold out,” she said.
Ms. Brown, who works aboard the trains between Halifax and Montreal one day a week, expects to be laid off this fall.
She also questions Via’s marketing efforts to attract more passengers. “We don’t see any marketing down here in the East to get more people out to travel by train,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ms. Brown said the announcement, while disappointing, was not a big surprise given that rumours had been circulating for the last six weeks.
“It’s upsetting. We have people who are going to lose jobs,” she said in an interview from Halifax.
Ms. Brown said about 45 people in the Halifax-Moncton area could lose their jobs, but she hopes retirement packages will be offered to reduce layoffs.
Via said it will not cut any whole routes and that it is working to expand track capacity on the busy Montreal-Toronto corridor. The service adjustments will be rolled out between July and the end of October.
Trip frequencies are being cut on some of the big routes, including the Montreal to Halifax route — “The Ocean” which will be cut from six to three round trips per week.
In the West, “The Canadian” — a Toronto to Vancouver route — will be reduced from three to two round trips per week in the off-season (October to April). Service during peak season will remain at three trips per week.
There will also be a number reductions in southwestern Ontario, where GO Transit and other services are available to commuters. London, Aldershot, Kitchener, Niagara Falls and other cities will see reduced Via service.
“In growing markets, we are adding more frequencies to meet customer demand,” said president and CEO Marc Laliberte.
“In addition, mandatory services in regions where there are limited transportation alternatives will remain.
“We are not eliminating rail service on any routes where we operate today and we are maintaining the flexibility to adjust service levels in the future, as customer needs evolve.”
Via notes that it has reduced it management workforce by 15 per cent since 2009.
The Harper government’s recent budget reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $6.5-million this year, $15.1-million in 2013-14 and $19.6-million in 2014-15.
Via Rail has worked to reduce its operating deficit. Excluding pension costs, the shortfall was reduced to $9-million in 2010 and a larger reduction was realized in 2011, Mr. Laliberte recently said.