SACKVILLE, N.B. – Atlantic Canadians need to speak up now or risk losing their passenger rail service.
That was the message heard by Ontario Green Party MP Bruce Hyer, who made a number of ‘whistle stops’ at historic train stations on Sunday, including Sackville’s, as he travelled by train from Halifax to Ottawa to sound the rallying cry against cuts to rail services that have seen VIA’s Atlantic run reduced and numerous train stations shuttered.
“It appears as though Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are trying to use any trick they can to do away with passenger rail service in rural Canada,” Hyer said. “This run here, the Ocean, has been a train that has been on the go since 1904 and it replaced a passenger rail service that had been here since Confederation.”
Last June, Via Rail announced it was cutting its Halifax-to-Montreal service from six times a week to three, cutting about 45 jobs in the Atlantic region. It also resulted in the closure of several train stations along the route, including Sackville’s and Amherst’s.
The train continues to stop at both the stations to pick up and drop off passengers, but normal services previously offered – including ticket purchases – are no longer offered. Train staff are no handling customer services.
“Maritimers need to show that they care about this run,” Hyer said. “Joni Mitchell said in a song that you don’t care about something til it’s gone, but I’m afraid once it’s gone it’s never coming back.”
Sackville town councillor Margaret Tusz-King, also a member of the local Green Party, said she, too, is concerned about the future of passenger rail service.
“The continuation of passenger rail travel is a keen concern of mine, not only because of rail's ability to transport people and goods using fewer fossil fuels than equivalent trucks on the road, but rail travel also serves the rural areas of the Maritimes in unique and important ways,” she said.
Tusz-King said the problem is with the decision-makers, who continue to consider the operation in business terms rather than as a way to provide a service to support residents. And this service will continue to erode unless the mindsets change, she said.
“It is indeed ironic that, because of its efficiencies, train travel is growing in other parts of the world, while it is dying out in Canada,” she said. “Perhaps our provincial government will take courage and invest in owning some tracks. They already manage the roads…”
Hyer hopes his awareness campaign prompts Atlantic Canadians to ask their MPs about the future of passenger rail service in the region. He said the government needs to make passenger service a priority and believes the government needs to take control of the Bathurst-Miramichi line in northern New Brunswick to save coast-to-coast Via service.
“Instead they are deliberately putting passenger rail service in jeopardy,” Hyer said. “We’ve had too many cuts by the Liberals and Consevatives over the years. There was a 74 per cent cut in 1990 and the last two years we’ve had a further 62 per cent cut. Now, for a measly $10 million that would keep the rail line open between Bathurst and Miramichi, we can save this train. That’s the cost of three kilometres of highway in Nova Scotia. We’re talking peanuts here.”
(with files from Darrell Cole-TC Media)