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HRM and VIA looking to get cars off the road

What would it take to give the Maritimes more rail services?

3 min read
caption Commuter trains would use existing infrastructure and be destined for the main station on Hollis Street.
Seth Earle
caption Commuter trains would use existing infrastructure and be destined for the main station on Hollis Street.
Seth Earle

Could commuter rail service in Nova Scotia be coming around the corner?

President and CEO of Via Rail, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, was in Halifax in late January to say it’s time to finalize a plan between the Crown corporation and the municipality regarding new rail services.

The idea of commuter rail is not new. Municipal staff compiled the commuter rail feasibility study back in 2014 and 15. The study focused on three potential routes: Halifax-Cobequid, Halifax-Beaverbank and Halifax-Elmsdale. All of the models would mostly use the existing tracks of the railway owner, CN.

“I think (commuter rail) would be an absolute game changer,” says District 14 Councillor Lisa Blackburn. Blackburn’s district covers Middle/Upper Sackville, Lucasville and Beaverbank—where one of the proposed lines would go.

“Via Rail has already come up with a plan of its own that they say is affordable for the municipality,” says Blackburn, but she adds, “it’s got to be affordable, not just for HRM, but it has to be affordable for the consumer.”

According to a 2016-17 Halifax Regional Municipality budget consultation, seven out of 10 respondents said they would be willing to pay more taxes for improved services. Two of the main services they mentioned were “making the municipality easier to walk and bike around” and transit.

“I think it could help get all these buses out of the downtown,” says Sandra Tobin as she waits for a bus near Scotia Square. “I would take the train if it went near my house for the comfort.”

Half of regional centre residents—those who live in the Halifax core—walk, bike or use transit to get to work. But that number plummets to just 25 per cent when extended to the rest of the HRM.

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Out of the commuter rail feasibility study, the HRM began the integrated mobility plan. The new plan is meant to make the municipality easier to move around, through infrastructure such as adding bike lanes, park and rides and new bus-only lanes in high traffic areas. The plan included several workshops for community involvement. It is currently being finalized and will be presented to council later this spring.

Via Rail is looking at more than just a commuter rail in the municipality. They are also hoping to begin daily regional service in the Maritimes, such as a more than once daily train between Halifax and Moncton.

“I would take the train to New Brunswick,” says Tobin. “Coach buses are just so uncomfortable for long rides, but right now it’s the only way.”

As it is now, only one train goes through New Brunswick from Halifax, traveling all the way to Montreal. This route only operates three times per week. Even though there is a train going both East and West when they operate, the times conflict making daily round trips impossible.

These new routes could be available later this year and would also use existing CN tracks.

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