AMHERST – Amherst’s historic train station is now closed as Via Rail reduces its passenger service through the Maritimes.
Two part-time employees are affected by the closure.
“The station closed as of Oct 27. We understand there will be a period of adaptation and we are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause,” Via spokeswoman Mylene Belanger said. “This is part of the overall strategy of three years ago, one of which is to increase customer experience by offering hi tech services.”
She said the majority of Via customers purchase their tickets online, which has had a tremendous impact on volumes at train stations such as Amherst.
“That’s why the station will become unmanned,” she said. “It’s not just the Amherst station that affected. It will be applied to a few others as well.”
Belanger said the train will still stop at the Amherst station to pick up and drop off passengers, but normal services previously offered from the building – including ticket purchases – will no longer be offered. Train staff, she said, will handle customer service.
For those with special needs, Belanger said, passengers will be picked up in Amherst and taken to the closest manned station in Moncton, where they can board the train.
Daily passenger service in the Maritimes ended on Friday. Via Rail’s Ocean run between Montreal and Halifax will now run three times a week, down from the previous six trips.
Via Rail’s federal funding was cut by $6.5 million this year, while another $34.7 million will be cut over the next two years.
Belanger said there are no long-range plans for the station that opened in 1906 for the Inter-Colonial Railway.
Marcus Garnet, a board member with Transport Action Atlantic, said his organization is puzzled by Via Rail’s decision to cut frequency by 50 per cent. He’s concerned the rail carrier is trying discourage ridership on the Ocean route as part of an agenda to pull out of the Maritimes.
He’s also troubled by the closure of the Amherst station.
“As longstanding advocates of environmentally sustainable, accessible and convenient public transportation, Transport Action Atlantic is disappointed to learn of the closure of Amherst and some other intermediate stations on the Via Rail Ocean route,” Garnet said. “While we understand Via's need to reduce operating costs, and while we recognize the benefits of electronic ticketing in reducing the need for ticket sales at the station itself, we believe there are other, more constructive solutions besides simply shutting people out of station buildings.”
He said the Via should reach out to communities such as Amherst to create a partnership that will preserve the station and allow it to again be used by passengers.