BYLINE: Rod Morrison

President & Chief Executive OfficerVia Rail Canada

AT THE END of the 1990s, Via Rail Canada has a new spirit of vitality and a commitment to explore the fresh thinking needed to take Canada’s passenger rail services into the next century. Over the past two decades we have delivered on our commitment. The spirit of growth continues to flourish, with successive increases in revenues and an improved bottom line. More importantly, we have set the stage for managing and growing passenger rail in new, innovative ways for the benefit of all Canadians.

Safety remains the cornerstone of everything we do. Last year we established a new and stronger integrated safety management system, to ensure that health, safety and the environment remain at the forefront of our priorities and that Canadian passenger services continue to enjoy their long-held reputation as one of the world’s safest transport modes.

Via is now at a pivotal point in its history. Some years ago we faced the daunting challenge of meeting sharply reduced funding targets without cutting services. Setting out to eliminate unnecessary costs, we have also worked to improve quality and performance throughout our network. We have adopted a single-minded determination to give customers a valuable, relevant, and rewarding passenger service that not only meets but exceeds their expectations, and have successfully made Via Rail a low-cost, high-quality passenger service.

The initiatives we have launched over the past year or two hint at the kind of innovative thinking that will be required. We added new trains to Kingston and Ottawa, and added convenient multi-modal connections in Cobourg and Brockville. We launched a ground-breaking web site on the Internet. We established new partnerships with companies such as Second Cup, Amtrak, hotel chains, car rental agencies, Chambers of Commerce and business groups across Canada.

As we look to the future, it is clear that passenger rail has an important place in a national transport network that is both fiscally and environmentally sustainable. Recognising Via’s success and potential, the government has called on us to assist with the evaluation of franchising and other public-private partnership options to see how they might apply in the Canadian context.

In this way we hope to find solutions to generate the funds which are needed to invest in our future, including rolling stock and infrastructure improvements. We believe there are significant opportunities for growth. The rising number of people taking the train attests to the demand for an efficient, reliable passenger service, and Via’s ability to meet that demand. As Canada looks to its future transport needs - and at the comparatively high costs of improvements in road and air infrastructure - it is clear that passenger rail can and will play a vital role in the years ahead.

To ensure this happens, Canada is ready and able to pursue new and innovative ways of delivering passenger rail services. We are at a critical watershed in the history of Canadian passenger rail operations. Government and industry experts recognise this. Throughout 1998, there has been significant public debate on the future of passenger rail, and the form this future will take. Via is already exploring new options for the future, and we are continuing to forge ahead - as an innovative, cost-effective, customer-focused organisation, committed to providing the best passenger transport service in Canada now and in the 21st century.

CAPTION: VIA’s Vancouver - Toronto Canadian runs three times a week; its long-distance coaches are now over 40 years old