The acting president of a public transportation advocacy group is blaming VIA Rail for not doing enough to promote its Maritime passenger rail service.
VIA Rail said it will not automatically cancel its east coast service if part of the track it currently uses is removed.
A 70-kilometre section of track between Miramichi and Bathurst, linking the Maritime provinces with Quebec, could be gone as early as this summer.
The track's owner, CN Rail, has started the process of decommissioning the line. VIA Rail said if that happens the company may just use a different line.
Ted Bartlett is acting president of Transport Action Atlantic, a group whose main objective is the “promotion, advancement and development of public transportation.” He said service to the Maritimes has been drastically scaled back.
Bartlett said there's a risk of even more cutbacks and he's pointing the blame directly at VIA.
“They have deliberately attempted to discourage ridership. They haven't spent a cent in years in promoting this service. They cut it back to three times a week, just as passenger traffic was starting to rebound,” he said.
CN said it will cost $10 million to upgrade the 70-kilometre stretch of tracks in northeastern New Brunswick — a section that is only used by VIA Rail.
“All of this has presented VIA with a golden opportunity to get out of a service that they really don't want to operate, and pin the blame on CN because CN is the one who wants to abandon the line,” said Bartlett.
VIA Rail said it can't afford to pay $10 million but it is looking at the possibility of using an Edmundston to Moncton route as an alternative.
Kellie Underhill uses the train six times per year.
“That doesn't go anywhere near Miramichi. How am I going to get there?” she said.
“I would love for VIA Rail or the government or somebody to step in and keep that line open. Otherwise, how am I going to get to Montreal? How am I going to get to Toronto if I don't want to fly?”
A spokesperson from Economic Development said the Edmundston-Moncton route would cost VIA Rail $50 million. That price would include acquiring land, building at least five stations, and installing signals.
The province said it would be cheaper for VIA or the federal government to fix the line between Bathurst and Miramichi.
Bartlett said VIA Rail is a Crown corporation and the federal government needs to step in.
“[I’m] appalled that a Maritimer, the Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt, has turned her back on her roots and is dismissing this in a cavalier attitude,” he said.
In a statement from the minister's office, she said the 70 kilometres is owned by CN — a private company — and so this is a private matter, not one for the federal government.