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Future of historic Sackville train station still in limbo

The Town of Sackville is seeking input on potential uses for the historic Sackville train station.
The Town of Sackville is seeking input on potential uses for the historic Sackville train station. - Scott Doherty

Town seeking ideas to bring new life to vacant building

SACKVILLE, N.B. – If someone has a vision or a business plan for Sackville’s train station, the town wants to hear about it.

Jamie Burke, senior manager of corporate projects for the town, said the municipality is looking to hear ideas on potential uses for the station, which has sat vacant since the fall of 2012 when VIA Rail closed it as part of cost-cutting measures to rail service in the Maritimes.

“It would be great to have some life brought back into it,” he said.

Burke said town staff have had a number of discussions with VIA representatives about the station over the past couple of years and the company is interested in working with the municipality to reopen and repurpose the building.

“They’re very open to another entity showing interest in the space.”

VIA Rail owns the building and the property around it but Burke said town staff have been making themselves available to hear any proposals from interested individuals, businesses or organizations, to show them the building’s blueprints, and to get them in touch with VIA for further details, including an inside look into the station.

“We’d love to see the building reopened,” he said.

The Sackville train station, a one-and-a-half storey structure built in 1907-’08 of locally-quarried standstone, is a nationally-designated heritage site. Because of this designation under the Heritage Railway Protection Act, the building can’t actually be turned over to a private enterprise. But it can be transferred over to a provincial or municipal entity provided the entity ensures the historic nature of the building has the same protection as it did under the Act.

Burke said the town is not interested in purchasing the building itself because of the operational and maintenance costs involved. But as was the case with the town of Amherst and a local business owner who has stepped up to redevelop the train station there, there is the potential for an agreement to be worked out where the town could acquire the building if there is an interested party coming forward with a viable proposal. VIA will also need to give approval on any agreements, said Burke, and there would be some stipulations since they would still need access to the platform area behind the station and storage space within the building.

“It’s all open for discussion,” he said. “So if someone is interested, get in touch with us and we’ll get you in touch with VIA. We’d certainly like to see some activity generated at the station, there’s no doubt about that.”

Mylene Belanger, media spokeswoman for VIA Rail Canada, confirmed that VIA wants to work in conjunction with municipalities so that “they can manage stations and transform them into integral components of their real estate assets,” using them for cultural or tourism purposes or as meeting spaces for citizens.

She noted that, over the past decade, VIA has proposed and entered into partnerships with the many communities that are along the rail line in order to find greater use for the underutilized stations and provide a space for community or commercial purposes. Agreements have been made, for example, for about a dozen stations across the country, from Smithers, B.C., to Amherst, N.S.

For more details on the process for transfer of ownership of a designated station, visit www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/pat-her/dem-req.

Burke said the town has met with several interested parties in the past couple of years, several who have come forward with what he calls “significant and realistic proposals.”

“But to date, nothing’s worked out for one reason or another.”

VIA rail services in the Maritimes were cut back in October 2012, resulting in the closure of several stations along the route between Montreal and Halifax, including Sackville’s. Although the train still makes a stop in Sackville three days a week, the station has sat empty and unmanned for the past six years.

In the months following the closure, the Mayor at the time Bob Berry toured the station with VIA representatives to determine its condition. The building was found to be structurally sound and the interior had also been well-maintained over the years. The foundation and the roof were both in good condition with only a bit of sandstone wear observed on the exterior of the building.

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