Sackville councillors urge feds to restore Via Rail service before it’s too late

Via train picks up passengers in Sackville on a snowy Sunday

Sackville Town Council voted unanimously last week to support the campaign to restore Via Rail’s Ocean passenger service that runs through Sackville on its route between Halifax and Montreal.

Councillors asked Mayor Higham to write a letter to the federal minister of transport supporting the group Save Our Trains in Northern New Brunswick, which is campaigning along with Transport Action Atlantic, for restoration of the six-day-a-week service that was cut to three days in 2012.

“I feel it’s a no-brainer, we really have to go after this,” Councillor Joyce O’Neil said when council first discussed the issue on February 5th.

“When you stop and think about it, if we lose the Via going through our town, our only other option is you’re either going to fly or bus or drive yourself,” O’Neil added. “This has been something that I’ve seen go all my lifetime and I’d hate to see us lose it now.”

“I think it’s a no-brainer too,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney. “We do need it. It’s a source of transportation for people who can’t afford a car or can’t afford other means.”

Report urges major investments

The background information package that councillors received before their meeting contained a copy of the report Riding The Ocean’s Next Wave by transportation consultant Greg Gormick.

The report, commissioned by the Save Our Trains group, was released last August.

It 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.

“Direction and funding from Ottawa will enable VIA to begin the process of restoring the Ocean and the Chaleur as effective providers of local and long-distance public transportation, and as major contributors to regional tourism development,” the report concludes adding, “Failure to act soon will doom the Ocean quickly and ensure the Chaleur never returns.”

Sackville’s historic station

Sackville’s historic train station

As part of the cuts in 2012, Via Rail closed Sackville’s train station built in 1907-08 of locally quarried sandstone. The station is a nationally designated historic site.

It’s not clear, however, whether Via Rail would reopen the station if passenger service were restored to six-days-a-week as town councillors hope.

None of the councillors at last Monday’s meeting specifically mentioned the station, although those who spoke made it clear they felt Sackville residents should continue to have passenger rail service.

Councillor Megan Mitton argued train service is important for environmental reasons as did Councillor Bill Evans.

“We have said that [environmental] sustainability is important to us,” Evans said. “Public transit is a huge component of supporting sustainability.”

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7 Responses to Sackville councillors urge feds to restore Via Rail service before it’s too late

  1. Gordon Heffler - Halifax says:

    A “no-brainier” is for sure an under-statement of how important rail both freight and passenger is to the success of a country! Yes I said “country” because it seems like over the past decades our Canadian governments have constantly let and even encouraged the demise of the very thing that made us a country in the first place!…The Railroad! Look around folks….Canada is the only country on the planet that is killing it’s rail system! Not that we should follow our neighbors who used to be good neighbors just south of our border until they elected a tyrant who is hell-bent to destroy their democracy and anything else he can ruin…..but not with standing that fact, they still have a vibrant rail system (with a few hiccups) that holds their economy together. Same can be said for Mexico. Thinking about it…South America, Europe, Russia, India,Australia and Pakistan are among the majority of countries that realize that the railroad is the tie that binds (them together as a country). Now we here in Canada are and have been on a downhill slide to oblivion as we dismantle the very system that our founders saw as method to nation-build. YES every little thing that any body or anybody can do to urge this government to “get with the program” and protect and expand and maintain our rails and rail system… Count me in! And it is not because I am a nostalgia-sayer hoping to keep the old ways…no…it is because a modern rail is vibrant and exciting and drives the economy both in passenger and freight…but not here unless we light a fire under these politicians at the Federal level to do something NOW! Why do we ship giant containers that are put on trucks to drive the roads instead of the rails endangering the travelling public (even a giant SUV is no match for a container truck on the road when things go bad and this type of truck traffic is wrecking the roadbeds and guess who has to pay to fix that…yup us taxpayers! Gordon Heffler-Halifax

  2. Rima Azar says:

    Well said, Mr. Gordon Heffler! Thank you. Canada needs to keep and, definitely improve, its rail system to strengthen its economy.

    We also need not only our trains but also our buses (AND especially airplanes!) to run at reasonable costs. This is badly needed to help economic growth. By Canada, I mean all of us as we are all Canada (not just the federal Government or other levels of government). The Canadian consumer should not accept such high prices not only for the sake of a better economy but also to foster/protect family ties, and to promote well-being (e.g. national tourism, which again would feed economy). It is NOT normal to sometimes pay more to travel to Toronto, for instance, than to travel all the way to Europe OR more than the part of a trip from Europe to the Middle East or elsewhere in the world. It is even ridiculous.

    I travel a lot by train and by bus for both business and pleasure. I like buses or trains because they are ideal to work whilst in transit. My only SERIOUS concern is the absence of security measures on our trains. No one inspects luggage (this is something that shocks me every time I travel). Perhaps a station with some sort of security machines would help? Or this could be done on the train before or immediately upon arrival?

    I partly agree with Ms. Mitton and Mr. Evans. Environmental concerns may perhaps justify this demand. I personally think Mr. Heffler’s argument about prosperity and road safety would be perhaps more convincing (let’s not forget that trains can be an environmentally dangerous mean of transportation of some products such as the Lac Mégantic tragedy).

    For all the reasons mentioned above, I totally support our Town Council’s demand. Thanks for thinking of this. However, I think it would be a pure hypocrisy on its behalf to use the argument card that our station is a nationally designated historic site. Indeed, the protection of heritage is clearly not one of Sackville’s strengths 🙂 or 🙁 .

    Last but not least, I personally think that our station in Sackville should re-open. It is VERY cold in the winter when we are standing in the wind for a long time (trains run late sometimes). Some citizens in our town have simple yet smart ideas about this train station. I hope they will recognize themselves and write a comment :)… but would anyone from Town Council listen?

  3. Percy Best says:

    Sadly Rima, this beauty of our train station has sat dormant since 2012 and will undoubtedly never again be an active Railway Station. Also, from the feedback that I have received is that no one in private business here in Sackville would ever want to touch it because of it’s historical property status and the hassle that they believe they would have to face should they ever try to locate a business there. It is certainly off the beaten track as well and it is too bad it wasn’t located out by congested Exit 504 or at Exit 506 so that it was visible from the TCH. So — if it is to have a second life then I would imagine that it will be government money supplied (yours and mine) in order that something may be done with it. It is great though to see the stately Amherst’s RR Station finally being given a second chance at life by an ambitious ex Woodpoint resident.

  4. Rima Azar says:

    Given your comment Percy, I now wonder if we can make our RR station work without locating a business there in the classical sense, which would surely hit a wall of systemic barriers. How about alternative ideas such as as a joint venture between levels of Government, namely Municipal and Federal? Bureaucracy aside, could such collaboration work? For instance, the Town ‘s school crossing guards working at the station (if they like the idea of earning more money). This means that, when they are not on their great mission of protection children during school arrival and dismissal, their duty would be to run the station? Of course, one must think of the logistics but it could work given that the train hours are known and may not coincide with the crossing guard duties.The two schools happen to be located near the RR station, which may be convenient. Another possible idea could be perhaps to think of training entrepreneurs to become part-time federal employees with RR whilst running a small business there. The Town can facilitate their business plan if they also commit to keep the station functional? Could ideas like that work? Ideally paying these people with a functional Phoenix system 🙂 or with federal funds managed by our Town? I wonder.

  5. Percy Best says:

    Thanks for the positive comments Rima! I really do think that there is a VERY slim chance of the Sackville station ever again being utilized as a functioning RR station. Via and CN do NOT like to spend any money unless they can make scads of it by doing so (or if the Feds or the Province gives them millions) and if ANY station was to have been kept then it probably would have been Amherst only ten minutes away.

    I have talked to the powers to be about utilizing the building as a Bob Edgett’s Boys Club but that proposal was not met with a positive response. It does perhaps hold promise as a possible club house for maybe a revitalized Lions Club, a Rotary Club, or even a Seniors Learning and drop in Center, etc. There are a lot of things it certainly could be used for if there was a group willing to take the ‘bull by the horns’.

    As far as Marshview Middle School goes though, and having the students involved, I am afraid that the building’s school days are numbered and it looks quite likely that it will occur within a couple of years. We may even hear an announcement as early as this May.

    I really would like to see some hard stats on how many passengers board the train, or disembark, here in Sackville currently for the three round train trips a week that are now made. It seems to me that there is not that many and the Sackville Town Council should have been presented with those numbers when they made their judgement call to support the effort to keep the trains running and expand the service.

    • Rima Azar says:

      How interesting to know all this (Bob Edgett’s Boys Club’s good idea and the rest as well). Data on passengers’ numbers would great to have. Thank you for Percy!

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