Via Rail suspension hurting small communities

The suspension of Via Rail's passenger service from Prince Rupert to Jasper is hitting small communities hard, according to one regional district director.

Via Rail's service on the line has been suspended since rail blockades in solidarity with a group of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs shut down traffic at the beginning of February. In a statement issued on Thursday, Via Rail said the Prince Rupert-Jasper line will be suspended until at least May 1.

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The current suspension is part of measures taken by Via Rail in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In our rural communities we depend on that rail service," Regional District of Fraser-Fort George director Dannielle Alan said. "Many of our local businesses depend on those passengers. It's a huge deal for us. I can't emphasize enough how destructive it is to have a lack of passenger service."

Alan, who represents the Robson Valley-Canoe area, said the rail line is a federally-mandated service. She called on the district to write a letter raising their concerns to Transport Canada.

"We've had rural passengers in McBride waiting weeks to take the train home," Alan said. "We need to stand up and make a big noise or we are going to be steamrolled."

Encouraging people to use the train instead of getting in their vehicles and driving is an important climate initiative as well, she added.

Director Allan Frederick, who represents the Village of McBride on the regional district board, said his community benefits from passenger rail service, as do many out on the western end of the line.

"In our community a lot of people are taking the rail to get around," he said.

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