There’s a chance that the fight to save the Newcastle Subdivision could be back on the table sooner than expected. In 2014, the Province of New Brunswick signed an agreement with CN to provide funding to maintain the north (from Irvco, N.B. to Nepisquit Junction, N.B.) and south (between Catamount, N.B. and Nelson Junction) portions of the Newcastle Sub.. This left only the middle section (roughly from Miramichi to Bathurst) uncovered, an issue that would later be solved by an agreement with the federal government.
The original agreement signed between the provincial government and CN indicated that it would ensure continued freight operations on the line for the next 15 years. Unfortunately, one detail was not specified in the press release from CN or other public information at the time: a clause in the agreement would allow for CN to re-evaluate the situation after 5 years, and if traffic on the line had dropped below 2012 levels for two consecutive years, they would be free to terminate the agreement and re-apply to abandon the line.
That clause will be applicable in 2019, meaning that in as little as two years time we could be facing another fight to preserve the route of the Ocean, which may also soon be the route of additional VIA trains if the proposed daily regional services between Campbellton and Moncton get off the ground. Of course it’s not a sure thing that CN will choose to invoke this clause, nor is it certain whether traffic levels have indeed dropped to the point that would make that possible – but the situation does give cause for concern.
TAA will continue to monitor this situation closely, and will plan to work with our partners throughout the region to advocate for solutions to preserve the line and passenger service, should CN seek once again to walk away from the route.
Here are CBC and Radio-Canada reports on the current situation:
CBC (English): http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/freight-rail-project-cn-1.3992590
Radio-Canada (En français): http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1017997/troncon-miramichi-bathurst-survie-menacee