Via Rail searching bags after drinking, assaults on Manitoba trains - Manitoba


Passengers taking Via Rail will now have their carry-on bags checked for alcohol after a number of assaults against employees and other passengers in Manitoba.

The new pre-boarding baggage procedure is being implemented across the country, but Via Rail said many of the incidents that precipitated it happened in Manitoba.

In a letter to community leaders in northern Manitoba, including the City of Thompson, Via Rail general manager of regional services Michael Woelcke said in the last three months there had been a number of "unfortunate incidents where customers have consumed their own alcohol on board Via's trains."

"This resulted in assaults against Via employees and other passengers."

With the new protocols, passengers are asked to arrive at least one hour before departure and carry-on bags will be checked to see if they contain alcohol or any other object that could endanger passengers and employees.

The letter was read at a council meeting in Thompson on May 8 and Mayor Dennis Fenske said people support the policy change.

Passenger safety should be priority

"I am not surprised there may have been issues of someone overindulging or becoming aggressive in some manner," he said, adding it happens in all kinds of travel.

"It's about the safety of the passengers and it's about the safety of the staff and this is no different than accessing airplanes, in the sense of you are not allowed to bring liquids of any kind onto a plane."

Via Rail operates a tri-weekly train service between Thompson and local communities.

Fenske said he is concerned that Thompson's small train station may not have the infrastructure or staffing to carry out the protocols efficiently.

"It's not like the Winnipeg airport where there's a defined security area — you go through and get checked, there is X-rays and all that stuff," he said.

"Locally here, you are a small train station, there may be a ticket agent and there may be one conductor loading and so from that perspective it's not an efficient operation."

He said the city will ask Via Rail about the best way to enact the new protocols. Via Rail could not confirm whether there would be changes to staffing in Thompson.

The Pas Mayor Jim Scott said he was surprised there wasn't already some sort of search of carry-on luggage when people take the train.

How to search bags in small stations?

"I didn't know you could really travel anywhere without being searched first, so that kind of surprised me," he said.

"But I was so upset to read that people are being assaulted on trains. That's just unbelievable."

The Pas isn't a busy stop for people getting on and off the train, so he didn't think it would cause much hassle, but Scott said he isn't sure how the Thompson station will be able to adapt.

"Is it large enough that you can put people inside in the middle of the winter and go through a whole security process?" Scott said. "Because it can get very cold."

The letter to the City of Thompson said the baggage policy came into effect May 8.

Read more