Sarnia officials fighting Via Rail cuts

From the Sarnia Observer:

It’s critical that Sarnia’s Via Rail station remains manned, says Mayor Mike Bradley, who will bring his concerns to city council Monday.

“We need to keep a presence at the station and ensure a high level of customer service continues, especially for people with disabilities who may need assistance, or people who don’t have a computer and need to buy their tickets there,” said Bradley.

The three Via Rail agents at Sarnia’s train station on Palmerston St. learned two weeks ago that they will be permanently laid off in September.

That follows the cancellation of one of two daily trains in late July.

Bradley met Wednesday with Garry McDonald from the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce and George Mallay with SLEP (Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership) to talk about saving local passenger rail service.

They were joined by passenger railway advocates from Michigan, who have fought to ensure that U.S. rail service doesn’t erode.

“We are trying to find solutions and it was interesting to hear what’s working in Michigan. They’ve done some fantastic stuff that goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Bradley said.

For instance, members of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers volunteer their time to open stations that AmTrak has left unmanned, said MARP’s chairman Bob Tischbein.

“I go in to stack the racks at the stations to make sure more marketing gets done and people are aware of train schedules,” he said. “We have good service in Michigan and we see constant improvement in Amtrak’s passenger counts.”

When train service is cut in Sarnia it impacts Michigan service, Tischbein said.

He spoke with Bradley, McDonald and Mallay about creating a public transportation system that combines bus and rail.

“We’re very interested in pursuing intermodal transportation with bus companies,” said Bradley.

Ideally, motorcoach service between Sarnia and London could ensure passengers easy access to numerous trains in and out of London, he said.

Combining modes of transportation is working in Michigan to keep rail and bus service busy, said Tischbein.

“AmTrak is talking about adding trains,” he said.

SLEP has requested a meeting with Via officials, and Bradley will ask city councillors for their support Monday.

“I’m very concerned about the future of our train station,” he said. “If it is unmanned, that will only serve to drive ridership down.”