‘We’re turning away revenue’: Outdated VIA Rail cars impacting northern Manitoba tourism

Outdated equipment at VIA Rail is beginning to cause travel woes across the country, as many rail cars in the Crown corporation’s aging fleet are decades past their intended lifespan, and that could have a major impact on remote tourist destinations like Churchill, Man.

Churchill, the world-renowned “polar bear capital of the world” has long been a tourist hotspot, but some industry stakeholders are raising the alarm about a lack of high-end, functioning rail equipment leading to a decline in visitors.

Daryl Adair of Rail Travel Tours told 680 CJOB’s The Start that the aging infrastructure means the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience tourists should have as part of a trip to Churchill just isn’t possible.

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“You have one sleeping car, you can only take 18-19 people, you can’t have large groups and you’re going to have microwavable, preheated sandwiches for your guests,” Adair said.

“It’s not an international experience. We’re telling them that the window for tourism in Churchill is so small — whether it be northern lights, or beluga whale season in the summer, or certainly the world-renowned polar bears in the fall — we have people calling us every day.”

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The Churchill-by-rail trip, he said, is vital to attracting tourist dollars to the northern Manitoba community, and without more investment in passenger rail, many people around the world could miss out on what should be a world-class experience.

“It’s a two-day, two-night trip. People don’t realize it goes through isolated backwoods. The fact that you can go through the prairies, the northern taiga, and the Arctic tundra all from the windows of the same train, it’s a unique train in the world.

“We want to take people up there. VIA’s saying we just don’t have the equipment… and we say there must be something out there, because we know the tourism economy is so vital in Churchill.”

Click to play video: 'VIA Rail routes in jeopardy due to outdated train cars'

VIA Rail routes in jeopardy due to outdated train cars

Unifor Canada’s Christopher Graper says there’s a huge untapped market for rail travel across Canada, and fears if nothing is done, there’s a risk of losing many — if not most — rail services in the next five to 10 years.

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“The reality is I think we’re turning away revenue. There’s a huge untapped market for rail travel in Canada that we just can’t take advantage of because we don’t have the equipment to do so.”

Graper fears if something isn’t done, there’s a risk of losing many, if not most, rail services in the next 5 to 10 years.

“All regions need more investment and a vision, really, a mandate for passenger rail in Canada because there is a demand there,” Graper told The Start.

“People are looking for carbon neutral solutions to get home, to go see grandma. And travel in Canada unfortunately is becoming something that happens between big cities, but rural communities lose out in that, and railways serve rural communities unlike any other type of carriers.”

Graper said communities like Churchill rely on rail, and without any help, it’s a tourism death sentence.

“We need to see a full reinvestment in the long-distance fleet.”

Click to play video: 'Getting people to Churchill'

Getting people to Churchill


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