VIA's annual ridership is approximately 4.1 million, with the majority carried on the Quebec City-Windsor corridor routes. VIA also operates 2 historical trains, the famous Canadian and Ocean, providing a transcontinental network. As a government mandate, VIA also operates multiple other long-distance routes serving communities "where alternate, year-round transportation is limited or unavailable."
VIA currently owns 76 locomotives and 396 passenger cars.
In the 1970s, passenger trains were on the verge of decline, with much of the population relying on personal cars or airplanes instead. CN and CP, the passenger carriers of the day, quickly decided that passenger trains would not be profitable anymore. In an attempt to solve the problem with passenger rail, the Liberal government, under Pierre Elliot Trudeau, placed all CN and CP passenger trains under the ownership of VIA Rail Canada, a former subsidary of CN Rail, which became a crown corporation in 1978.
This change would not increase ridership, however; in 1981, VIA suffered massive cuts which saw the discontinuation of moajor routes including the Super Continental, one of VIA's transcontinental routes. It was during this time when VIA first experimented with high-speed rail in the Corridor, purchasing several Bombardier LRC trains. The locomotives suffered from reliability issues, and the conditions of the track limited their speeds.
In 1985, under Prime Minister Mulroney, some service was restored, including the Super Continental. Mulroney also gave funding to VIA Rail to purchase new locomotives, in order to reduce the company's reliance on 30 yer old second-hand locomotives. The 59 GMD F40PHs were delivered in 1988, and most continue in service today.
On Februrary 8, 1986, the eastbound Super Continental collided with a CN freight train outside Hinton, Alberta. 23 people lost their lives. The accident was caused by the freight train missing a red signal.
By the 1990s, inflation has taken its toll on Mulroney's government, and VIA saw its budget slashed by 55%. Many trains were cut, including the Super Continental, leaving VIA to operate only 1 transcontinental service, the Canadian, albeit along the CN route instead of the CP route.
VIA has examined purchasing Superliner cars during this time, in order to replace its antiquated Budd-built stainless steel single-level cars. The cuts of 1990 forced VIA to refurbish most of its Budd cars.
By the new millenium, however, VIA Rail recieved increased funding due to environmental measures taken after the Kyoto Protocol was signed. The funding allowed VIA to purchase 21 GE P42DCs, along with 139 British-style "Renaissance" cars. These largely replaced the LRC locomotives and VIA's older "Blue and yellow" cars.
More recently, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, funding has been granted in order for VIA to refurbish its fleet. The entire F40PH refurbishment was completed in 2012. The rolling stock refurbishment is currently underway.
Corridor services on the Toronto-London via Kitchener route, as well as the runs to Niagara Falls, were partially taken over by GO Transit trains.
Further cuts from the Harper Government have further reduced train services across Canada. The most recent one threatens the Ocean's existence, as CN had decided to abandon a stretch of track in northern New Brunswick. The stretch of track was later saved by the efforts of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments of the Maritimes.
VIA operates 76 locomotives. Its fleet primarily consists of F40PHs and P42DCs. Unlike other railroads (save for Metrolinx, Translink, and Amtrak), VIA prefers to have a locomotive fleet without much variety because maintenance costs are low, and because of crew familiarity.
- GMD F40PH-3, numbered 6400-6459. Delivered in 1988-1989. Some retired due to accidents. Remaining rebuilt between 2009-2012. 6403 renumbered to 6459. Classed GPA-30a/b/c
- GE P42DC, numbered 900-920. Delivered in 2001. Classed EPA-42a
- EMD SW1000, numbered 202 and 204. Used as switchers in Montreal.
- 6 Budd RDCs, consisting of RDC1s, RDC2s, and a single RDC4. Last RDCs to be used in revenue service in the world.
VIA's former fleet consists of ex-CN and CP FP9s, ex-CN FP-4s, and LRC locomotives.
- GMD FP9, numbered 6500-6569. Most built in 1953 for CN and CP. Retired by 1990.
- MLW FPA-4 and FPB-4, A-units numbered 6760-6793, B-units numbered 6860-6871. Most delivered in 1958. Retired by 1990.
- LRC, locomotive numbered 6900-6930. All retired by 2001.
- On Februrary 8, 1986, the eastbound Super Continental was hit head on by a CN freight train. 23 people died. The accident was caused by the freight train's crew falling asleep at the controls.
- On Februrary 26, 2012, a train bound for Niagara Falls jumped a switch and derailed in Burlington, Ontario, killing all 3 crew members. The accident was caused by a misunderstanding of signals
- In April 2013, Police arrested three men for allegedly plotting a terror plot against VIA/Amtrak's Maple Leaf train.
- On September 18, 2013, a train bound from Ottawa to Toronto was hit by an OC Transpo ADL Enviro500 double decker bus at Fallowfield station. The bus slammed into the side of the train and derailed it. 6 people on the bus were killed. The accident was later traced to "teething" problems with the new double deckers, which caused the brakes to fail.
- On March 2, 2014, VIA P42DC #901 caught fire at Alexandria Station while travelling at the back of a train bound for Ottawa.