New Brunswick

Sackville, Amherst Via stations may close

Via Rail ticketing staff say the stations in Sackville and Amherst will be closing in October, but a company official says no decisions have been made.
Via Rail employees are bracing for cuts to the Ocean service between Montreal and Halifax. (Phonse Jessome/CBC)

The Via Rail stations in Sackville and Amherst will close on October 27, according to local ticket agents.

A company representative told CBC News Friday, however, that no decisions have been made yet.

Earlier this week, Via Rail announced plans to cut back train service throughout the Maritimes.

Officials said the company's Ocean service, which runs between Montreal and Halifax, will go from six round trips a week to three starting in the fall.

But they have said no stations will be closed as a result of the service running only on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

On Friday, Via spokesman Malcolm Andrews told CBC News there will be "some changes" as a result of fewer trains operating and a move to e-ticketing by the end of the year.

But he could not confirm what the cuts in service will mean for the future of the two stations.

"It's too soon at this stage to say exactly what changes could result from this and exactly how that goes forward in fact will form part of the discussions that we'll be having both with the unions, which have begun, as well as with the affected communities."

Andrews said that Via is not "looking at discontinuing any of the current stops being made by The Ocean."

Still, Amherst Mayor Rob Small is worried about the possibility of a pending closure.

"Of course, the big concern is that, you know, here we are the corridor between the two provinces and we have a pretty regular clientele that use the train here in Amherst," he said.

"The options that our residents have are not that many. You know, you've got the train, you've got either a taxi, you've got a shuttle and you've got a car or truck, if you're lucky enough to own one. So, for those people who don't have those things, the train is it."

Small is also worried about the economic impact on the community.

"I think the effect that the closure of this train station, just like any other municipality that has a train station going through them, is that it’s just one more issue related to economic development for our area," he said.

The service cuts come after the federal government's March budget which cut $41 million in subsidies to Via over three years, but the company insists the trip reductions and job losses are driven by weak off-season demand.

Ridership on the Ocean line has dropped by 50 per cent over the last 15 years, officials have said.

Jennifer Brown, president of Local 4005 of the Canadian Auto Workers union, has disputed those figures.

Brown, who works on trains between Halifax and Montreal one day a week, contends demand is up.

She said the service cuts will mean the loss of 15 jobs in Moncton and 30 in Halifax, effective the end of October.

Nationally, Via Rail said it expects to cut 200 unionized jobs, or about nine per cent of its positions.

The federal government's recent budget reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $6.5 million this year, $15.1 million in 2013-14 and $19.6 million in 2014-15.