“(The cars) are going to be placed between the business cars and the economy cars and they’re going to contain both economy and premium economy sections,” Kaloutsky said. This class will be for passengers “who want a little more comfort and privacy than the economy class but aren’t prepared to spend the entire amount for business class and meals.”
The premium economy seats will actually be the former business class leather seats refurbished in new material and colors. Unlike business class, where passengers pay in their ticket price for choices of hot gourmet-style meals delivered to their seats, premium economy passengers will pay for lighter fare, similar to sandwiches and snacks currently sold by attendants from food trolleys in economy. Food currently ranges from pastries and coffee in the morning to sandwiches and snacks. There are no separate snack bars or dining cars on LRC trains.
Kaloutsky said the “specifics” of the premium economy service, including food, still have to be worked out, noting the combi cars will be the last to refurbished and not ready until 2014.
VIA operates 19 train routes across Canada but the overwhelming number of scheduled services are in the densely-populated Corridor — Canada’s equivalent to the Washington–Boston east coast corridor. There it operates 22 sets of LRC trains and five sets of Renaissance equipment. Renaissance was originally put on the Montreal-Quebec City route and as of April 2010, hass been added to the Ottawa-Toronto and Toronto-Niagara Falls runs.
The Corridor, which represents 75 percent of Canada’s population, also remains VIA’s highest revenue-generating region, providing more than 80 percent of the company’s revenue.
Shron said the LRC cars’ overhaul is the latest example of VIA improvising to sustain itself with a meager budget and resources, though government funding has improved over the past decade. He said VIA traditionally has been hamstrung by underfunding and having to make do with refurbished older cars or getting the best bang for its buck by buying mothballed cars and then refurbishing to Canadian standards.
VIA, he said, simply has not had the funds to buy new equipment. “So what ends up happening is they take older equipment and they keep it running and they do whatever they can to refurbish it, refresh it, and they do a wonderful job.”
Despite “working on a shoestring,” Shron says VIA has also found a way to increase service. Between 1990 and 2000 when funding was at a low ebb, VIA “created innovative new services during that time and they increased ridership — it’s very impressive.”
Kaloutsky says the railway still plans to wring out more efficiencies from its current rolling stock. It has no immediate plans to acquire new equipment.
“What we’re looking at doing is working with our time table and with our infrastructure to make more use of the current fleet that we have and the current timetables we have in order to better serve all our communities.”
Ron Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ontario.