Canada says no plans to privatize Via Rail now

Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:55pm EST
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government considered the possibility of selling the busiest part of its Via Rail network, but said on Friday it has no plans at present to privatize plans for the passenger-train company.

The transport department told incoming Transport Minister Denis Lebel when he took office in May after the Conservative government's reelection that it was assessing various options to stanch losses at the company, which provides passenger rail service across Canada.

"Spending is currently being reviewed across all government departments and agencies but at this time, there are no plans to privatize Via Rail," Lebel press secretary Pierre Florea said in an email.

He said briefing notes for a minister do "not necessarily reflect the government's position on these files, or a decision made by the government. While the department can make suggestions, the minister is in charge of government policy."

The vast majority of Via Rail traffic is between Quebec City and Windsor, Ontario, including key routes serving Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. That stretch would have the most potential interest from the private sector.

"Privatization and public sector partnerships in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor are being assessed," said the briefing note, obtained by Bloomberg News under access-to-information legislation.

Other options under consideration were reducing service levels, particularly on the less-traveled stretches outside that Quebec-Windsor corridor.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Janet Guttsman)