Many Islanders wouldn’t remember the days when rail was a main mode of transportation on P.E.I. Those who do remember were likely affected by the loss in some way.
Now the other Maritime provinces are in danger of losing passenger rail service and experiencing the same loss.
In an attempt to stop that from happening, Bruce Hyer, the Green Party’s deputy leader, and an advocacy group – Transport Action Atlantic – are leading a crusade and Maritimers should jump on board.
The Save Maritime Rail tour kicked off with a rally at the Halifax Train Station on Sunday with whistle stop events at seven stations in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Travelling by rail makes sense. With gas prices rising way more often than they flutter downward, and with the emphasis on living greener lives, rail should be an easy sell.
But passengers just aren’t travelling by train. It’s inefficient and inconvenient and not cheap enough to make you overlook these disadvantages. You can often find a cheap flight from point A to point B for the same or slightly more money than travelling by train. Or you can drive there faster and on your own schedule.
If you’re travelling from Halifax to Montreal, for instance, the train fare is only half the price of an Air Canada ticket, but you have to travel all day and overnight to get there.
Yet if people don’t use the rail they’ll lose it, just like P.E.I. did. It’s inevitable, unless the service changes to suit the customer.
A frequent train user, who attended the Sunday rally in Halifax, says the service should be better marketed. Perhaps scheduling changes could be made to involve less overnight travel. Well-travelled corridors could have non-stop routes.
Hyer is pushing for a national transportation strategy. Apparently, we’re the only OCED (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) country without one.
Abandonment is not the answer. The government of Canada should be investing in VIA Rail instead of pulling money away.
The weekend rallies were intended to make Maritimers aware of funding cuts to VIA Rail, which could mean the end of passenger rail service in the Maritimes as early as this summer. With CN Rail abandoning a 71-km stretch of track between Bathurst and Miramichi, N.B., that is shared jointly with VIA Rail, this is a real possibility.
"We've already cut Via Rail in the Maritimes from six times a week to three times a week and now we're at risk of losing it all together," noted Hyer.
When it’s gone, people will likely do the same thing they did when we lost the service on P.E.I. They’ll wonder why nothing was done to stop it.