ns-trentonworks

The TrentonWorks plant is a major employer in Pictou County. ((CBC file))

Hundreds of people in Pictou County are losing their jobs at a railcar plant.

Greenbrier Companies, which owns TrentonWorks Ltd., announced Wednesday that it wouldclose the money-losing plant in Trenton in a few months, once its current order is filled.

About 330 people work at the plant, which has been a fixture in Nova Scotia since 1872. Just over a year ago, the workforce totalled 1,200.

TrentonWorks general manager Bob Hickey blamed poor financial results on a lack of orders, "but we had hoped it wouldn't come to this," he said in a release.

"This is a black day for Pictou County," said Clarrie MacKinnon, the MLA for the region.

Greenbrier took over TrentonWorks in 1995. Over the years, the plant became less competitive as the Canadian dollar climbed. It also had to compete with Greenbrier's railcar plant in Mexico, where wages are $3 an hour compared to $19 in Trenton, according to union estimates.

Province, Ottawaoffered millions

The federal and Nova Scotia governments had offeredfinancial incentivesto try to convince Greenbrier to keep the plant operating in the province.

Premier Rodney MacDonald said Ottawa offered $3.5 million, while the province was prepared to extend an $8.8-million loan guarantee and put up $5.7 million in new money.

Though Greenbrier executives said their decision is final, MacDonald plans tocontact the company to see whether there is any hope the decision will be reversed.

"We were willing to play our part," he said. "It's certainly a sad day for the community, but it is a private-sector decision."

Union seeks options

Despite Greenbrier's announcement, some people remain hopeful that new opportunities at the plant will bring new jobs.

MLA MacKinnon said TrentonWorks is too valuable to lose and suggested the plant could be used to make equipment needed in the Alberta oilpatch.

"We cannot allow over a century to disappear overnight," he told reporters, "and we will not roll over and play dead on this issue."

The union representing plant workersshares MacKinnon's dream.

"We intend to push for a sale or a lease of the facility because it's a very viable plant," said Dave Fanning, with the United Steelworkers.

But it won't come as a surprise to Trenton Mayor Shannon MacInnis if people are tempted to move away.

"More than likely we're going tosee a lot of guys moving out west and looking for work elsewhere unless we can come up with something in our town," MacInnis said.

Greenbrier said Wednesday that a new plant in Mexico will pick up any slack stemming from the closure of the Trenton plant, which had second-quarter losses of about $2.2 million US after taxes.

With files from the Canadian Press