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McILVEEN: With aid from Ottawa, passenger rail could make comeback

There were sighs of relief in the Maritimes on Monday when Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt made it official: Ottawa will commit $10.2 million to upgrade the CN line from Bathurst to Miramichi used only by Via Rail.

It was an about-face for Sydney native Raitt, who said earlier this year that Ottawa would not put any money into the railway. The New Brunswick government and CN promised to invest $25 million and $30 million respectively to upgrade sections of the track to keep freight moving — but not the 71 kilometres known as the Newcastle subdivision, which was to be sold or abandoned.

And Via, yet another Crown corporation that has been coping with funding cuts from Ottawa, said it couldn’t afford to buy the track and might have to cancel passenger rail service to the Maritimes.

Besides being part of Canada’s storied sea-to-sea passenger train service, the Ocean ferries residents of various northern New Brunswick communities to and from Moncton and centres like Bathurst and Mirimichi for shopping, visiting and medical appointments.

Some 80 to 100 people work in Halifax and Moncton aboard the trains in addition to station, operating and maintenance staff, and the Ocean creates spinoff jobs in the region.

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