Northern rail service decision draws closer

The future of rail service in northern New Brunswick will be discussed in the next few days, with a decision expected no later than August.

CN Railway, government officials to discuss future of Newcastle Subdivision line

CN legally has to make a decision about the Newcastle Subdivision line by August, but a company executive says it may come sooner. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

A CN Railway executive will meet with provincial government officials in the next few days to discuss the future of rail service in northern New Brunswick.

Sean Finn says the company's main concern is to serve its customers, but operations need to be profitable.

Shipments on the Newcastle Subdivision line have to double for the service to be viable, he said.

"We're looking to do two things as you know, make sure the capital is invested in that line in order for it to be viable long-term and secondly, build new business and find new traffic," said Finn.

"It's not by doing studies that you're going to find traffic, it's by going out there and finding where the goods are coming from, where they're going, how we deal with the sustainable, long-term business plan for traffic on that line."

CN legally has to make a decision about the service by August, but it may come sooner, said Finn.

Hal Raper, of Miramichi Lumber, said he's skeptical the northern line has a future.

He said the mill would gladly commit to regular shipments, but CN wouldn't commit to timely service.

"A volume is something we could commit to if we could get assurances that they would have the cars here on a timely basis," he said.

Seeking $50M from partners

Last August, CN announced it was looking for $50 million from the New Brunswick government and other partners to maintain freight rail service operating in the northern part of the province.

Otherwise, the company said it would be forced to discontinue the 224-kilometre stretch between Catamount, just west of Moncton and Irvco, about 32 kilometres west of Bathurst, by March 2014.

CN says it's incurring annual losses, due to declining traffic volumes and infrastructure costs.

As of last year, about 15,000 car loads were being shipped on the route, said Finn. That's down from about 25,000 in 2008 when CN re-acquired it from what was then the New Brunswick East Coast Railway, he said.