FREDERICTON – Via Rail has tentatively agreed to spend $10.2 million to repair tracks in northern New Brunswick used to provide passenger rail service to the Maritimes, federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced Monday.
The deal would see repairs to a 70-kilometre stretch of track between Miramichi and Bathurst.
Raitt said the funding means passenger service from Montreal to Halifax can continue three days a week in each direction.
“The continuity of Via Rail’s Ocean service on this rail line in northern New Brunswick is excellent news as it will not only benefit the users, but also each community along the route by maintaining jobs and supporting the local economy,” Raitt said in a statement.
The agreement needs to be ratified by the boards of both Via Rail and CN, which owns the track.
CN was planning on abandoning the line and Via Rail had previously said it couldn’t afford to buy or maintain the stretch of track.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, welcomed the announcement Monday after leading a months-long campaign to save the line.
“The effects of abandoning this section of track would have had a devastating impact on so many communities along the Ocean route,” said national president Jerry Dias.
“It would have had a terrible impact on Via Rail workers and their families, so we are pleased to see that the government has recognized the value of this service.”
The New Brunswick government previously announced it would provide $25 million to improve rail infrastructure in northern New Brunswick, while CN agreed to spend a comparable amount to maintain and operate its freight line for a 15-year period. But the stretch of track between Miramichi and Bathurst was not included that deal.
Via Rail spokesman Jacques Gagnon said the company’s board will likely ratify the agreement at a meeting later this month.
Gagnon said the repairs will include levelling the stretch of track so that trains can travel at higher speeds.
He said the company hopes the investment will increase ridership.
“And eventually, increase the frequency, if Canadians ride more and more the (Ocean line) on that segment,” Gagnon said in an interview.
CN did not respond to a request for comment.