Passengers cash in on Via discount but not everyone appeased by apology

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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MONTREAL - Even the prospect of a 60 per cent discount on future train travel wasn't enough to put a smile on the face of Alain Delamirande.

Delamirande was forced to buy a bus ticket to get home to Montreal after being stranded in Quebec's Saguenay region when Via Rail's 340 engineers walked off the job Friday.

Delamirande said he was so sick of trying to get through by phone that he decided to go to Montreal's Central Station to get his refund Monday.

And he was far from appeased by Via's offer of a 60 per cent discount for travellers on all regular adult economy class fares as well as business class fares in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor.

Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 PDT Wednesday for travel until Dec. 14, 2009.

"I saw the 60 per cent ad and I was laughing," Delamirande said as he vowed never again to take the train.

"Yea, sure! They are not going to get my clientele for the next time."

He believes Canadian passenger rail service pales in comparison with Europe's train system. He says limited departures between Montreal and Quebec City, where he travels regularly for work, also make it an inconvenient option.

Via's phone lines and website were flooded Monday after the company announced late Sunday it would offer the discount as an apology for a two-day, national strike that brought service to a standstill.

Avid train users Joe Batt and wife Sonia Ben were more appreciative of Via's offer.

"I'm a big Via Rail fan," Ben said.

"I used to go Montreal-Toronto all the time by train. Even when I was given the option to go by plane with my work, I still chose the train.

"People are nice. It's fast and efficient. You go downtown to downtown and it's a decent way to travel."

When the strike broke out, Ben and Batt started looking for alternative ways of getting to Toronto for a four-day trip next week. Now, they'll still be travelling by train.

Real Sanscartier said Monday he was fuming when his holiday plans were inconvenienced by the strike.

Noting his girlfriend was in line picking up tickets for travel to Toronto, Quebec City and Vancouver, he suggested the 60 per cent off deal has served to lighten his mood.

Train service resumed Sunday afternoon after the company and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference met with a mediator and agreed to send any outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

About 14 trains operated Sunday and service was fully restored across the country by Monday.

Several hundred employees who were laid off due to fears the strike could last weeks or months were also slated to be back on the job.

Contract negotiations between Via and the union broke down last Thursday.

The union's key demands include improvements in work schedules and the training of new engineers.

The engineers have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2006.

Organizations: Via Rail, Central Station

Geographic location: MONTREAL, Quebec City, Saguenay Windsor-Quebec Toronto Europe Vancouver Canada

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