By Raissa Tetanish
Truro Daily News
TRURO - Bobby Matheson can't believe how he and several other VIA Rail passengers were treated Sunday night.
Matheson, a retired conductor with the same company, was travelling from Oshawa, Ont., by train. He was spending time with his son and was to catch a connecting train in Montreal for a 20-hour ride into Truro.
"It was 6:26 p.m. when the train stopped and we were off a minute later," Matheson said, referring to himself and about 15 other passengers. "The train for the Maritimes - the number 14 - was about 20 feet away. I was one of the last passengers off and could see the door to the train was open."
The Bible Hill resident said what happened next was "something you see in the movies."
The passengers, he said, were told they weren't able to get on the train and had to "go upstairs."
"Then they closed the door and locked it. The women were pounding on the door and hollering."
Matheson said at least eight of the people scheduled to be on the Montreal train had booked sleeping rooms, as he had.
"I worked on the trains for 35 years and I couldn't believe it. If you're on a passenger train and you're getting ready to leave, the conductor stands with the door open looking from one end to the other to see if they have everyone."
Matheson remembers stopping the train during his career because a woman with a child wasn't on it.
"I saw this woman coming with her suitcase and little girl so I stopped the train, backed it up so they could get on."
He said he has never been so disgusted before VIA Rail's actions.
"It's crazy to strand people there. Even to wait five minutes, or half an hour, it wouldn't be hard to make up that time. I can't believe they could treat people like that."
Those that didn't make the connecting train went into the station where they were booked on the next available train - 24 hours later. They were provided rooms at a hotel, as well as meals and taxis.
"It's going to be a long time before I take the train again. I was on trains for 35 years before retiring for 20. I'll drive before I take the train again," said Matheson.
"We all had our tickets and reservations. It's just ridiculous. It's a terrible way to treat their customers."
Malcolm Andrews, a media representative with VIA Rail, apologized for the situation.
"We are very sorry for the whole situation," he said. "We admit we slipped up big time in terms of communications and we apologize to all those customers."
Andrews said it was evident during the trip from southern Ontario that the customers weren't going to make their connecting train in Montreal.
"The staff on that train should have explained that information to those passengers before they got to Montreal," he said.
Keeping the connector train in Montreal to wait for the 15 or 16 passengers wasn't feasible, explained Andrews.
"We're not the only train on the tracks, so if we're out there at the wrong time, it screws everything up."
He also said that when a connecting train is as lengthy as the Montreal to Halifax train is, many of the passengers have checked baggage.
"So it isn't just about passengers getting off one train and going to the next. It's also making sure their baggage gets out of the baggage car and gets on the right train."
When it becomes apparent a passenger isn't going to make a connector, Andrews said those reservations then go back into the system for resale, all the while booking the passenger on the next available train.