Riding the Rails of the Future: A Sneak Peek at VIA Rail's New Fleet

VIA Rail Canada is upgrading its fleet of trains, for the first time in a very long time. This is big news not only for train enthusiasts su...

VIA Rail Canada is upgrading its fleet of trains, for the first time in a very long time. This is big news not only for train enthusiasts such as myself but also for those who frequently use trains in Canada for transportation. The planned upgrades promise to make train travel in Canada a more enjoyable and eco-friendly experience. This is why I got very excited when VIA Rail Canada invited me, among other premier members, to a private "show and tell" tour of their new fleet at the Ottawa Station. 

With its fleet replacement project, VIA Rail Canada is aiming to improve safety, comfort, and sustainability, which is a positive development. However, it's worth noting that the new trains will not be faster than the existing fleet, as diesel-electric locomotives have inherent speed limitations. To achieve a substantial increase in speed, Canada must transition to electric trains, similar to what Europe and Asia have done successfully for many years. 
Unfortunately, Canada has been reluctant to invest in major transportation projects, which has slowed down progress.
According to VIA Rail's website, the new trains are the Siemens Mobility-built "Charger" locomotives and the "Amtrak Midwest" passenger coaches. The locomotives are manufactured in Sacramento, California, while the passenger coaches are being built in Rochelle, Illinois.
In terms of technical characteristics, the Charger locomotives are diesel-electric locomotives that are capable of operating at speeds up to 200 km/h. They are equipped with a 4,400 horsepower engine that meets the latest EPA Tier 4 emissions standards, making them more environmentally friendly than VIA Rail's existing fleet. The locomotives also feature advanced safety systems, including collision mitigation and positive train control. 
The fleet replacement program consists of two phases. The first phase involves the procurement of 32 new trainsets, which will be used on the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, VIA Rail's busiest and most important route. The new trainsets will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including advanced signalling and train control systems, as well as modern amenities. The bathrooms do look stellar, hands down. 
The second phase of the program involves the replacement of VIA Rail's long-distance fleet, which serves routes across Canada. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to ride one of the first two trainsets between Montreal and Ottawa in late May 2023. ride
A few fun facts about the VIA Rail Canada's existing train fleet.
1. Head End Power (HEP) 2 trains built by Pullman-Standard in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite being over half a century old, many HEP 2 cars are still in service in Canada today, a testament to their durability and innovative design. Honestly, they are my favourite train cars, especially #4121 which has classic model locomotives inside! These train cars are both aesthetically pleasing and aerodynamic and invoke so much nostalgia. 
2. The LRC trains, which stands for "Light, Rapid, Comfortable," was an ambitious project by Bombardier in the 1980s to create a new generation of high-speed trains for Canadian rail travel. Despite the locomotives being retired for more than 20 years now, many of the LRC's original passenger coaches remain in service today, thanks to their sturdy construction and longevity. 
3. The Renaissance trains were acquired from Alstom in the mid-1990s. Interesting that these trains were originally intended for use in Europe but were modified to meet the specific needs of Canadian rail travel. These high-speed trains are a familiar sight on the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor and are known for their distinctive sleek design and comfortable interior. 
4. The Budd cars, originally built by the Budd Company in the 1950s and 1960s, are a type of diesel-powered railcar that has become iconic for its design and reliability. These cars are still in use today on the Sudbury-White River route, which was once known as "Superior." One interesting fact about the Budd cars is that they were originally designed to be self-propelled, meaning that they could operate without a locomotive. 
A little-known fact is that the old Union Station in Ottawa was in operation between 1912 and 1966. After its closure, VIA Rail moved its operations to the nearby Ottawa Station, which is still in use today. 
The old Union Station building is simply marvellous - both inside and outside. It's been recently renovated to host the Senate of Canada. 
One of the main reasons for the station's closure in 1966 was the decline of passenger rail travel in the 1950s and 1960s. The rise of affordable and convenient air travel, as well as the expansion of the highway system, meant that fewer and fewer people were choosing to travel by train. As a result, the old Union Station saw a sharp decline in passenger traffic, and it became increasingly difficult to justify the cost of operating and maintaining the station.

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