Mayors from northern New Brunswick cities met with representatives from rail companies and provincial government officials on Wednesday to discuss the impact service cuts have had on their region and ways to get service restored.
Via Rail recently reduced its Ocean line route between Montreal and Halifax to three round trips weekly from six.
Meanwhile, Canadian National Railway (CN) has applied to discontinue its freight line in the northern part of the province by March 2014 unless the provincial government or other partners come up with $50 million.
Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet says the reduced train schedule, combined with no bus service, has hit the region hard.
"It's really isolating us, and it's not a good thing," he said.
Residents are having difficulty getting out of the city for essential medical appointments and other events, said Brunet.
But he also realizes it will take a lot to make a case that restoring frequent service makes good business sense to Via Rail and CN, he said.
"My best hope is we have a couple mines that are set to reopen, is that those mines open and provide traffic for CN so that they can survive, and in Miramichi [they've] got the flakeboard plant that's starting and that will provide some goods that have to go by rail."
At the same time, Via Rail and CN would have to improve their infrastructure, which has deteriorated over the years and impacted the quality of their service, said Brunet. Until that's addressed, he said, ridership on trains will remain low.
"You need a business case of good delivery of services and people will come," said Brunet.
"Chicken and the egg, you won't use the train unless you get good service, good service means timely … You're not going to take the train to Montreal when you can drive there in half the time."
Brunet is encouraged by the meeting organized by the provincial government with representatives from Via Rail and CN, area mayors and Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud, who is the Minister of Economic Development, responsible for the Northern New Brunswick Initiative and Rural Affairs.
Brunet describes it as a good step and hopes all parties will continue to work together to improve service.
"It would be a really sad day in Bathurst or Miramichi if we didn't hear that train whistle going through every day. Really sad, it's been part of our history since the beginning of Canada," said Brunet.