VIA forum comes to K-W

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(Graphic by Steph Truong)

Last Thursday, National Dream Renewed, a public outreach project of Transport Action Canada, came to the Region of Waterloo’s administrative headquarters to inform the public on the potential of Canada’s national rail passenger service, VIA rail. The discussion was conducted by Greg Gormick, the director for National Dream Renewed and Toronto transportation writer, researcher and policy writer, and then followed by an open forum discussion with the audience.

The forum was open to anyone, and in attendance was Kitchener mayor Carl Zehr, Waterloo councilors Jean Haalboom and Jane Brewer, as well as numerous Kitchener-Waterloo community members.

Gormick’s presentation educated the audience on unlocking the potential of the railway system, how this could be done and why it is important.

The discussion facilitated differing opinions along with criticism on the topic.

Gormick informed the audience on the nationwide program and how the potential of the VIA has yet to be achieved.

“I’m here to try and educate you on the subject and you’re here to try and educate me on your needs and what you want to see,” he said.

Zehr began by discussing the overall importance of Gormick’s presentation to the Kitchener-Waterloo community. He explained, “Improving inter-city transportation is important not only to provide residents with sustainable travel choice, but also for reasons of the economy.”

He acknowledged how for Kitchener-Waterloo a revived rail system would contribute to expanded labour markets, strengthened links to the GTA and increased tourism.

The fact that money is necessary to fix this problem was made clear.  Naturally, there is debate over whether people would support more of their tax dollars going towards VIA. Gormick explained how rail travel is cost effective if run properly, yet VIA has not been modernized and does not have effective management.

“They do something for the communities, for the economy,” he suggested. “Trains, if you’re modernizing the system and running it properly, they create jobs….from these jobs and these purchases comes tax revenue and there comes economic stimulus.”

He went on to explain how hope for improvement in VIA Rail exists, but it requires citizens political will in order to progress.

“Today VIA is the peoples’ railway, you own it, you fund it, yet you don’t get a say in it. And it’s wrong,” argued Gormick.

In particular, he believes that young people who have the technological knowledge and experience should take this issue online to raise further awareness. Social media can be used as a tool, and as stressed by Gormick, youth are the future and an improved rail system will benefit Canadians in the future.

The comments and questions during the town hall, one of many which is being held by the organization across Canada, allowed many local citizens to express their views on the topic. A few complained about VIA’s prices, the lack of information and advertisements as well as overall inconvenience.

Kitchener-Waterloo resident Ron Bevridge discussed the idea of scrapping VIA and starting off with a new national vision, one of high-speed rail travel.

“The current system is ancient,” he complained. “It costs money to repair something that is broken so why not start with a new vision of a national high speed rail system?”

When asked about this perception Gormick explained how VIA is a good concept, yet it is in a downfall due to poor management.

“The system has to be improved rationally and incrementally … all of those wonderful railways you see overseas, they used their existing railways and they improved them,” Gormick explained. “We’re nowhere near where these other countries have been who have gone for full electrified high speed rail.”

According to Gormick, the National Revival Program has hope for VIA as long as the people get involved in this process and keep voicing their opinions to politicians.

As Gormick stated, “It’s about unlocking potential, potential that has not been tapped … and were missing out.”

By Ally Flack

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