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Maritime mayors smiling as Ottawa ponies up for rail repairs

A Via passenger train winds through Miramichi, N.B. Municipal officials in the Maritimes are hopeful that track repairs will allow Via to ramp up its passenger service.

Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Maritime mayors who banded together to save a vital stretch of track in New Brunswick were welcoming reports on Sunday of federal funding for repairs to the line used by Via Rail.

Stephen Brunet, mayor of Bathurst, N.B., said he and other Maritime politicians have been rallying to save the 70-kilometre stretch of track between New Brunswick's Miramichi and Bathurst used to provide rail service to the east coast.

Brunet said reports of federal funding for repairs to the track is good news for all the communities along the passenger line in the Maritimes. He said he hopes the repairs mean Via Rail can eventually ramp up its passenger service.

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"It's good news not only for Bathurst but for Halifax, Moncton and all the communities... who rallied for this cause," said Brunet in a phone interview on Sunday.

"It will ensure that [Via Rail] can now pick up their socks and increase the number of trains coming through here on a weekly basis because they will now have lines that they can operate at speeds that will make them much more user-friendly.

"I look forward to the line being improved over the next while so that the efficiency gets better and people will use it."

Mayor Bill Mills of Truro, N.S., said the rail line was front-and-centre at an Atlantic Mayors' Congress meeting two weeks ago in Charlottetown, where the mayors vowed to continue encouraging Ottawa to provide help.

"To me, it's a no-brainer," said Mills, whose central Nova Scotia town of about 45,000 people has 11 rail crossings. "Truro was built on the railroad as a transportation hub. It's a vital link for us."

The funding hasn't been officially confirmed by the federal government. But Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union, issued a statement Saturday saying it has received confirmation that Ottawa would provide funding, although it did not elaborate.

Brunet said he and several other mayors have been told to be in Fredericton on Monday for an announcement by federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and New Brunswick Premier David Alward.

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The province previously announced it would provide $25-million to improve rail infrastructure in northern New Brunswick, while CN agreed to spend a comparable amount to maintain and operate its freight line for a 15-year period.

Brunet said he's heard Ottawa will put up $10-million to repair the stretch of track between Miramichi and Bathurst, which was not included in the provincial government's agreement with CN.

Raitt's office would only say Monday's announcement relates to passenger rail service.

Neither Via Rail or CN immediately commented on the reports.

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