Will Priority Rail Shipping for VIA Interfere with Freight? - PiVAL (2024)

Rail transport is a cornerstone of North America’s logistics infrastructure, with both passenger and freight services relying heavily on the same network of tracks.

VIA Rail Canada, the nation’s primary passenger rail service, has been pushing for priority rail shipping to improve its service reliability and punctuality.

However, this move has sparked concerns about potential interference with freight services, which are vital to the economy.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the complexities of this issue, examining the historical context, operational challenges, economic implications, and potential solutions.

Historical Context of Rail Transport in Canada

The Canadian rail system has a rich history dating back to the early 19th century, evolving into a dual-use network that supports both passenger and freight services.

Historically, freight rail has dominated the use of rail lines, given its critical role in transporting goods across vast distances.

Rail freight companies like Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) have long-established networks and schedules optimized for freight transport efficiency.

Passenger rail services, like those provided by VIA Rail, often operate on tracks owned by these freight companies.

This arrangement has led to a complex relationship where passenger trains must yield to freight trains, causing delays and reliability issues for passenger services.

VIA Rail’s push for priority rail shipping aims to address these delays by ensuring passenger trains have precedence on the tracks.

Operational Challenges

Implementing priority rail shipping for VIA involves several operational challenges. Here are some key considerations:

Track Capacity and Scheduling:

  • Capacity Constraints: The existing rail network has limited capacity, with high traffic volumes in certain corridors. Giving priority to passenger trains could exacerbate congestion issues, leading to bottlenecks.
  • Scheduling Conflicts: Freight trains operate on tightly scheduled routes to ensure timely delivery. Adjusting these schedules to accommodate passenger train priority could disrupt the entire logistics chain, affecting delivery times and reliability.

Infrastructure Limitations:

  • Single-Track Sections: Many rail lines have single-track sections where trains must wait for oncoming traffic to pass. Priority for passenger trains in these areas could significantly delay freight movements.
  • Maintenance and Upgrades: To support priority rail shipping, substantial investment in infrastructure upgrades, such as double-tracking and advanced signalling systems, would be necessary. These upgrades require time and financial resources, presenting a significant challenge.

Operational Costs:

  • Increased Costs for Freight Operators: Changes in scheduling and infrastructure usage could increase operational costs for freight operators. These costs may be passed on to customers, affecting the competitiveness of rail freight transport.
  • Resource Allocation: Ensuring priority for passenger trains may require reallocating resources such as track access fees and maintenance priorities, impacting the financial dynamics of rail operations.

Economic Implications

The economic implications of prioritizing rail shipping for VIA Rail are multifaceted, affecting various stakeholders across the supply chain.

Impact on Freight Companies:

  • Operational Efficiency: Freight companies could experience decreased operational efficiency due to increased delays and scheduling disruptions. This could lead to higher costs and reduced competitiveness compared to other modes of transport, such as trucking.
  • Market Share: Rail freight could lose market share to other transportation modes if reliability and efficiency decline, potentially leading to higher overall logistics costs and increased environmental impact due to a shift towards road transport.

Impact on Industries:

  • Supply Chain Disruptions: Industries that rely heavily on rail freight, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and natural resources, could face supply chain disruptions. Delays in the delivery of raw materials and finished goods can lead to production slowdowns and increased inventory costs.
  • Economic Growth: Efficient rail transport is crucial for economic growth, particularly in regions that depend on rail for moving goods. Any negative impact on freight services could hinder economic development and growth prospects in these areas.

Consumer Impact:

  • Price Increases: Increased costs for freight transport may be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods. This could affect the cost of living and purchasing power, particularly for essential goods that are transported by rail.

Potential Solutions

To address the challenges and mitigate the potential negative impacts of prioritizing rail shipping for VIA, several solutions can be considered:

Infrastructure Investments:

  • Double-Tracking: Expanding single-track sections to double tracks can alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow for both passenger and freight trains.
  • Advanced Signaling Systems: Implementing advanced signalling and communication systems can enhance the efficiency and safety of rail operations, allowing for better coordination and scheduling.

Collaborative Scheduling:

  • Integrated Planning: Developing integrated scheduling systems that consider the needs of both passenger and freight services can help minimize conflicts and optimize track usage.
  • Real-Time Coordination: Utilizing real-time data and communication tools to dynamically manage train movements can improve flexibility and responsiveness to changing conditions.

Policy and Regulation:

  • Regulatory Framework: Establishing a regulatory framework that balances the interests of passenger and freight services can ensure fair access to rail infrastructure. Policies could include incentives for infrastructure investment and penalties for excessive delays.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Encouraging public-private partnerships can facilitate the funding and implementation of necessary infrastructure upgrades and operational improvements.

Technological Innovations:

  • Automated Systems: Leveraging automation and artificial intelligence in rail operations can enhance efficiency and reduce the risk of human error, leading to more reliable and predictable services.
  • Predictive Analytics: Using predictive analytics to forecast demand and optimize scheduling can help anticipate and mitigate potential disruptions.


The question of whether priority rail shipping for VIA will interfere with freight services is complex and multifaceted.

While improving passenger rail services is essential for enhancing public transportation and reducing environmental impact, it is equally important to ensure that freight services remain efficient and reliable.

Balancing the needs of passenger and freight services requires a comprehensive approach that includes infrastructure investments, collaborative scheduling, policy and regulatory measures, and technological innovations.

By addressing the operational challenges and economic implications thoughtfully, it is possible to create a rail network that supports both passenger and freight services effectively.

In conclusion, while the implementation of priority rail shipping for VIA presents significant challenges, it also offers opportunities for innovation and improvement in the rail transport sector.

By embracing these opportunities and addressing the challenges head-on, Canada can build a more resilient and efficient rail network that serves the needs of both passengers and freight.

At PiVAL, we specialize in providing comprehensive logistics solutions tailored to meet the unique needs of businesses of all sizes.

From warehousing and distribution to transportation and inventory management, we offer a wide range of services designed to optimize your supply chain and drive business success.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your business thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.

Will Priority Rail Shipping for VIA Interfere with Freight? - PiVAL (2024)


Do passenger trains have priority over freight? ›

Passenger trains stop at stations or depots, where passengers may board and disembark. In most cases, passenger trains operate on a fixed schedule and have priority over freight trains.

Can high speed rail carry freight? ›

This doubles the business case for building high speed rail - as a major new, fast passenger transport system, and a super efficient and fast light freight system!

Why isn t more freight shipped by rail? ›

Shipping by truck saves money

It also helps to drive up the cost of this transportation. So, even if it was feasible to ship more items by rail, companies would not do it because they're looking for the cheapest way to move their goods. Another potential issue is the fact that rail systems are very limited.

What are two disadvantages of rail? ›

There are risks and disadvantages of transporting your goods by rail including:
  • routes and timetables available can be inflexible, especially in remote regions.
  • rail transport can be more expensive than road transport.
  • mechanical failure or industrial action can disrupt services.

What are 3 negative effects of the railroads? ›

Main Railway Disturbances: Noise and Vibration, and Air, Soil and Water Pollution
  • Noise and Vibration. ...
  • Air Pollution and Emission. ...
  • Soil Pollution. ...
  • Water Pollution. ...
  • Soil Erosion and Changes in Hydrology.
Sep 19, 2017

What is freight train interference? ›

Freight train interference can be a consequence of a timing issue, a mechanical failure on the freight train, or some other incident where the freight is blocking tracks or switches. When a freight train is blocking Metra train movement, freight railroad dispatchers notify Metra dispatchers of the issue.

Do freight trains have right of way over Amtrak? ›

Federal law requires Amtrak passenger trains to receive preference over freight transportation, but the largest cause of delay to Amtrak trains on host railroads is “Freight Train Interference,” typically caused by a freight railroad requiring an Amtrak passenger train to wait so that its freight trains can operate ...

Do freight trains and passenger trains use the same tracks? ›

Over 70% of Amtrak's travel occurs on tracks owned by freight railroads. Amtrak's relationship with host railroads is governed by federal statutes and negotiated agreements, specifying key terms like schedules and performance standards.

What percentage of freight is shipped by rail? ›

Freight rail accounts for around 40% of long-distance ton-miles — more than any other mode of transportation. States: Railroads operate in 49 states and the District of Columbia, with short lines running over about 44,000 route miles and Class I railroads running over about 92,000 route miles.

Why does the US have no high-speed rail? ›

In the U.S., passenger rail is stifled because of its aging infrastructure, a problem only made worse by decades of political disagreements and earlier lobbying from automobile and aviation industries that called for competing investments in their infrastructure.

Does Fedex freight use rail? ›

Freight forwarding is available via air, sea, road, and rail.

Why do freight trains have so many engines? ›

Flexi Says: Trains have multiple engines to provide more pulling power. Multiple engines collectively become more powerful that provide more work in the same time. Extra locomotives help to pull heavy loads or for trains going up steep grades.

Is it cheaper to ship by rail or truck? ›

COST. If you're hauling goods crosstown or even intrastate, trucking may be the better bargain. It's also a good consideration if your volume doesn't even fill one rail car. However, for longer journeys—especially those over 600 miles—shipping by rail is the far more cost-effective option.

What are the pros and cons of rail transport? ›

As a result, although rail transport has advantages such as high carrying capacity, economy, reliability and environmental impact, it also has some disadvantages such as limited flexibility, operating costs, necessity of intermodal connections and delivery time.

What is a distinct disadvantage of railroads? ›

The railway requires a large investment of capital. The cost of construction, maintenance and overhead expenses are very high as compared to other modes of transport.

What disadvantages did railroads have? ›

One of the main disadvantages of railroads is they must OWN all the land their tracks are laid upon. In addition, they have NO authorigy to designate lands as necessary for the “good of the people”, as do county, city, state, and country governments, and taken over.

What are the risks of rail transport? ›

  • Train collisions. Collisions can occur between two or more trains or between trains and infrastructure. ...
  • Derailments. ...
  • Level /Grade Crossings and Trespass. ...
  • Railway Staff Risks. ...
  • Stations. ...
  • Suicides. ...
  • Dangerous goods.


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