VIA Rail eyes new train services for the Maritimes

A VIA Rail train waits at a snow platform on a bright sunny day outside the train station in Halifax
The Maritimes could soon have increased VIA Rail train services in the form of new regional trains (Photo by Tim Hayman)

VIA Rail is talking about making changes to its Atlantic Canadian passenger services, and for the first time in many years, they’re not talking about cuts. VIA president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano was in the Maritimes this week and took part in a call-in show on CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon program on Monday. During that program he mentioned that VIA is seriously looking at adding new regional train services in the Maritimes, potentially as early as next year.

The proposed services would include a Campbellton-Moncton train and a Moncton-Halifax train, both of which would make eastbound trips in the morning and return trips west in the evening. These trains would operate in addition to the thrice weekly Ocean and would be focused on providing a regular, useful service to local travellers within the region. Details about the days of operation and the type of equipment that may be used for the service are unknown, but it seems clear that these trains would run a more frequent schedule than the Ocean, and would offer more basic coach accommodations.

The potential for regional train services in the Maritimes has been on the radar since Susan Williams was appointed as General Manager for VIA’s eastern region earlier this year. At Transport Action Atlantic’s Annual General Meeting in Moncton this past spring, Ms. Williams mentioned that developing a business case for regional services was part of the mandate of her new position, along with exploring ways to increase ridership on the Ocean. A press release at the time of her appointment stated that “Ms. Williams will be working to bring VIA Rail’s service offering in line with this part of the country’s needs and demands. This is one of the first steps of a larger strategy to better serve Eastern Canada”.

The comments this week from Desjardins-Siciliano provide the first real look at what sort of a strategy VIA has been working on behind the scenes, and also offer a potential timeline – in an interview with CTV news, Desjardins-Siciliano said that VIA is “hoping to have the service in place no later than the school year start which is August and September of next year for university students and maybe as early as next summer”.

Transport Action Atlantic welcomes the news of the potential new services. TAA president Ted Bartlett says people from Campbellton, Bathurst, and Miramichi, as well as smaller communities along the line are looking for a reliable train service to Moncton.

“This addresses their problem quite well in that they would be able to leave home first thing in the morning, get to Moncton by the noon hour, have their medical appointments … do whatever business they came here to do, and get back on the train at supper and be home that night.” The same would also be true for the service connecting Moncton and Halifax, allowing people from Moncton, Sackville, Amherst, and Truro to make same day trips to Halifax. That hasn’t been possible since VIA cut back on train service throughout the Maritimes three years ago, Bartlett said.”So we’re hoping this really does work for them.”

In many ways, these services would closely mirror trains that VIA used to run throughout the region before the drastic nation-wide service cuts of 1990. VIA once ran regional services on each of these proposed routes, along with services between Sydney, Port Hawkesbury and Halifax, Yarmouth and Halifax, Moncton and Saint John, and Moncton and Edmundston. It’s not likely that we’d see any of those trains return in the near future (or ever, in the case of Sydney and Yarmouth), but if VIA goes ahead with the new services and has success on these routes, there is always the chance that a case could be made for them to expand further in the future.

There is still plenty for VIA to do before they can introduce any new services, including securing track permissions from CN, ensuring there is indeed sufficient interest along these routes, and sorting out the various logistics involved in setting up a new service (i.e. scheduling, crew training, arranging equipment, etc.). While it is not yet a sure thing, it does seem that VIA is very serious about the potential in expanding their Maritime services.

As for the Ocean, it’s service will continue at 3 trips per week for the time being, and Desjardins-Siciliano said there are no plans to increase that to daily service any time soon. However, in addition to the extra trains running this Christmas, the VIA president did comment that they will continue to look at adjusting the frequency to better meet demand throughout the year. Though there is always the possibility that this could mean further reductions in off-season service, we can also hope that it could mean adding additional departures during other busy times of the year, such as during the peak summer months.

 

You can listen to the podcast of the CBC Maritime Noon program here: CBC Maritime Noon Podcast

Listen to TAA president Ted Bartlett’s interview on Information Morning Moncton: Back on Track – Information Morning Moncton

You can also read more about the proposed services in several online news sources, including the links below.

CBC News – VIA Rail talking new routes between Halifax, Moncton, Campbellton

CBC News – Rail advocate applauds potential Campbellton-Moncton route

CTV News – VIA Rail considering new regional routes in Atlantic Canada

Chronicle Herald: VIA looks at expanding Atlantic service

 

UPDATE: Desjardins-Siciliano has also posted on the VIAEvolution blog discussing this topic. Though he mostly reiterates the same points, there are a few bits of clarification that make it worth reading: VIAEvolution Blog

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