Re: VIA 15 Ocean very late

Tom Box

Marc Eric wrote:

>> it's look like the Friday VIA 15 from Halifax, is still in
>> Halifax Saturday morning  Any one know why?

Tim Hayman wrote:

> #15 has ultimately been cancelled. It appears there was a
> crewing issue (something to do with a lack of a Service
> Manager), so departure was delayed on a rolling basis all
> afternoon and evening. Apparently VIA needed to get some
> permission from Transport Canada to run the train, but that
> wasn't forthcoming. No idea why.

I was booked on that train out of Halifax.  We never did find
out exactly why it was cancelled.  The e-mails I received about
the delay just said "Operational issues are delaying the
departure of Train 15."  I did hear officially from a VIA
manager that they were waiting on a Transport Canada decision.
I can't recall if the lack of a service manager was in an
official statement, or if I heard it second-hand (there was
much speculation and rumor-mongering among the passengers
during the wait).  Unifor (the union) was involved too.  I
gathered they were saying a safety issue was at stake.

The scheduled departure time is 13:00.  Boarding hadn't begun
at 12:45, so it was pretty clear we wouldn't be leaving on time.
My record of the e-mails announcing revised departure times (all
times Atlantic Daylight): at 12:49 they said 14:00.  At 14:19
they said 15:00, at 15:19 they said 16:00, at 15:49 they said
16:30.  At 16:56 they said 17:00, though they couldn't have
boarded everybody in 4 minutes and by then nobody believed the
updates.  At 18:25 they said 18:30, at 18:56 they said 19:00,
and at 21:25 they said 21:30.

At about 21:45 we were allowed to board.  I didn't hear any public
address announcement about boarding, just word of mouth, "They're
letting us onto the train."  We straggled out of the station onto
the train and at the doorway from the station to the platform a
VIA employee told us the train might or might not be departing, and
that we might have to get off the train and return to the station.
My sleeping car porter said they would begin dinner service in the
dining car as soon as everybody was on board, and she would let us
know when that happened.  Another crew member said they had been
told to set the dining car tables. The porter also said she wouldn't
yet be making up the berths for the night, since we might have to
get off the train.

All six open-section berths in my car were booked; three Halifax
passengers and three others boarding at other stations.  I sat
and chatted with the other two Halifax passengers.  There was no
mention of dinner for quite a while, so I wandered down to the
diner to see what was happening.  It was set up for dinner --
tablecloths and full place settings at all the tables -- but
nobody was there.  In the service car next door, a crew member
said she had soup and rolls and pie available (no main course),
so I had that in take-out containers, eating in the service car
lounge and not messing up the nice table settings in the diner.

Our porter finally agreed to make up the berths, though with
the warning we might be kicked off at any moment.  I got to
bed about 00:15.

> Seems the call to cancel was made extremely late last night,

Here's a tweet from somebody waiting for the train in Truro
who received a cancellation notice at 22:51.  We on board the
train in Halifax did not receive that notice.  Sometime after
I had gone to sleep, Sheila Duffy, the station manager, woke me
up and said the train was being cancelled.  We could spend the
night on board but had to be off before 07:30.  We would get
both a cash refund and a credit for future travel.  I looked
at my watch, but I was still half asleep and don't recall the
exact time.  01:00 or 02:00, I think.  Normally I hate being
awakened from a sound sleep, but I did want to know what was
going on, so waking me was a good call.

I got up at about 06:30, showered, and found I had an e-mail
sent at 04:55 saying the train would depart at 07:30.  It
was pretty clear from the lack of activity on board that that
wasn't true.  The dining car tables had been cleared off and
there was no breakfast.  I got off the train before the 07:30
deadline, and at 07:39 an e-mail was sent saying, "Due to a
situation out of our control, Train 15 travelling between
Halifax and Montreal, scheduled to depart on July 22, has been
CANCELLED with no alternate transportation."  That e-mail
didn't mention a refund, but I received a refund receipt
sent at 08:33.  The money hasn't appeared in my account yet,
but I have every confidence that it will soon.

> reports are that passengers have been left to completely fend
> for themselves, no alternatives or help being provided by VIA
> (apart from refunds, I expect). An absolute mess all around.

In 2015 and 2016 when I arrived in Toronto on a very late #2,
there were special teams set up at tables in the station to deal
with all the passengers with missed connections.  It was very
well handled.  When I was on another late #2 in 2018 I expected
the service would be even better, since they were getting so much
practice that year with the Canadian's schedule totally melting
down.  In fact it was not as good as in previous years, but they
still got me a hotel room paid for by VIA and rebooked me on a
train the next day.

In Halifax on Saturday morning when I went from the train into
the station, I just saw one employee there, a manager named André
Lanteigne who had the unfortunate task of dealing with many
distressed or irate passengers.  It was before 08:00 on a
Saturday and no doubt many of the station staff had worked late
the previous day when the train failed to depart, but I got no
sense that VIA saw a cancelled train as an urgent situation that
needed special handling.  VIA wouldn't pay for a hotel room if
you wanted to wait for Sunday's train.  No help with booking
airline tickets, let alone paying for them.  Nobody in the ticket
office to do rebookings, and André's only suggestion on that point
was to call the telephone sales office.  I did so, and got a
recorded message saying that the office was closed and would open
at 07:00.  It was 08:00 ADT.  Maybe the recording meant Eastern
Time and maybe I had called at 07:59, but it just added to my bad

I started looking for airline bookings on my tablet.  A frustrating
task without a proper keyboard (I'm not a smartphone person and
can't speed-type with my thumbs) and with the feeble station wi-fi
occasionally giving out and forcing me to reconnect, but I found
there were seats available on quite a few flights, and the fares
for same-day purchases were not as high as I had feared they would
be.  If VIA had booked flights for the sleeper passengers (all the
ones I spoke to were going to Montreal) it probably would have
cost less than refunding all the fares.

I booked a flight, then helped out some Americans whom I had met
during the wait the day before.  They had no idea what airlines
served Halifax or where they flew to, so I tried to fill them in.

A few more VIA employees had shown up by then.  When I complained
to one of them about the difficulty of changing my bookings for
connecting trains, she texted a contact at the Moncton call
centre, who called me back and was helpful in making the
changes.  Other positive things to note: VIA served muffins and
bottled water in mid-afternoon Friday and sandwiches and soda
pop at suppertime (pizza had been promised, but we got sandwiches
instead).  No food or even coffee Saturday morning.  Taxi chits
to the airport were available, but not widely advertised.  I
overheard some people planning to share the cost of a cab until
I told them VIA would cover it.

Problems come up from time to time when you travel, but until now
I had great confidence that VIA would do its best to look after
me.  This was my worst experience in 45 years of travelling on
VIA, not so much because of the cancelled train itself, but
because of how VIA handled the situation.  I still haven't fully
digested it.

Tom Box
tbox at ncf dot ca
Port Hope, ON, Canada

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