You can brand me a bit of an idealist, but I’m on side with those who believe passenger rail transportation still has tremendous potential in this country and specifically within this region.
It is particularly encouraging to read recently where an advocacy group called Save Our Trains has submitted a report to VIA Rail which outlines the economic, social and environmental benefits of not just maintaining the existing service, but expanding and modernizing the service throughout the region.
The group warns that Via’s Ocean train service will die without restoration of six-day-a-week service which it says would require an investment of about $266 million in new passenger train cars and track upgrades.
It also recommends spending an additional $30-$40 million to restore Via’s Chaleur service on the Gaspé Peninsula.
To quote the report: “For 113 years, this legendary train has plied the rails linking Halifax, Montreal and all the communities along the route of the Intercolonial Railway, the construction of which was one of the articles of Confederation in 1867. But federal policies, inadequate funding, deterioration of the equipment and, above all, a lack of interest in Ottawa are now threatening the Ocean’s survival.”
Sadly, we have seen a steady decline of services to this region in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to see passenger rail transportation disappear from the radar while the dollars are invested in the more high demand corridors from Quebec City to Windsor and in parts of Western Canada.
Since 2012, we have seen the closure of several of our historic railway stations and job cuts to Via Rail that were disproportionately higher in this region as compared to the rest of the country.
Even recent statements from both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau on the future of VIA Rail service would suggest they are supportive of the Crown corporation’s proposals for enhanced rail passenger service in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, as well as the urgent need to replace severely aging equipment.
As Transport Action Atlantic President Ted Bartlett pointed out recently, the government needs to recognize that Canada doesn’t end at Quebec City. Passenger rail investment all across the country has been neglected for years by successive governments. The entire VIA network must be re-equipped, and the area where the need is most urgent cannot be overlooked.
Many other countries have recognized that rail service is one of the most efficient ways to get goods and people from one place to another. As well it is certainly safer and more environmentally friendly than any other mode of transportation.
Surely, we have enough influence within the Liberal caucus in Ottawa with every MP in this region on the government side of the house. It’s time those voices were heard and Atlantic Canada received its fair share when it comes to rail passenger services.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.