A muted celebration of National Railway Day

A railway track disappears to the horizon amidst a forest
On CN’s Newcastle Sub just north of Rogersville NB, a speed restriction slows VIA Rail’s Ocean to an agonizing 30 miles per hour over more than 60 miles of deteriorated track. It’s not something to celebrate on National Railway Day!

Transport Action Atlantic’s observance of National Railway Day is somewhat less than celebratory this year.  Our optimism that the Trudeau Government would act decisively to address some of Canada’s critical rail issues is beginning to fade, amid growing concern about the state of the network in the Maritimes and across Canada.

November 7 marks the anniversary of the last spike ceremony that marked completion of a continuous rail link from coast to coast in 1885. More than 130 years after that historic event, what’s often referred to as the National Dream remains an essential part of the Canadian economy.  But despite the vital importance of rail in moving goods and people from coast to coast, TAA insists there are some very serious issues that need to be addressed. So far they appear to be getting short shrift from a government that took office just over a year ago on a promise of “real change.”

The federal government appears to have a renewed focus on the subject of rail safety – and rightly so. But there’s also a critical infrastructure shortfall that is still not getting the attention it so badly needs. Last Thursday’s major policy speech in Montreal by Transport Minister Marc Garneau had very little to say about it.

Clearly there’s a growing crisis in the key central Canada corridor between the country’s two largest cities, where freight congestion is seriously compromising on-time performance of VIA Rail passenger service, and overloaded highways are becoming ever more crowded and dangerous.

In the Maritimes there are dormant and underutilized lines that could be making a much greater contribution to the overall transportation picture by relieving pressure on the highway network. Meanwhile, the sorry remnant of what was once a vibrant passenger operation in our region is totally inadequate to meet the needs of the communities it is supposed to serve.

In our view, rail passenger service in the Maritimes is really an embarrassment to Canada.  Without a doubt we lag far behind all other G7 nations – and many third-world countries as well.  It’s almost beyond belief that the longest-running named passenger train in North America is crawling along a 60-mile stretch of badly deteriorated track in northern New Brunswick at 30 miles per hour or less.  Forty years ago the Ocean routinely ran at 75 miles per hour over most of that route – and it took two hours less to travel from Moncton to Campbellton that it does today.  Although the condition of the CN mainline through Nova Scotia is significantly better, the passenger train is frequently subject to lengthy delays because most of the passing tracks between Moncton and Halifax have been decommissioned.

Transport Action Atlantic strongly supports recent initiatives by the provincial ministers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to have the issues addressed, and we acknowledge the efforts of several MPs from the region to convince the federal minister that Canada does not end at Quebec City.


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