ROBIN BOOKER/BRANDON SUN
Rail Travel Tours chartered a bus to take passengers to Rivers from Winnipeg in order to protest cutbacks to Via Rail Canada services.
RIVERS — It’s hard to imagine less passenger train services in Canada, but that’s exactly what some business owners in Rivers are worried about.
Susan Childerhose, vice president of the Rivers Chamber of Commerce and owner of Forbidden Flavours, said a reduction in Via Rail Canada services will affect not only Rivers, but also a larger region — the Rivers station serves an area from Portage la Prairie to the Saskatchewan border and from the American border to north of Dauphin.
"We do see a lot of travellers waiting for the train in town. In the last eight months, my night customers after 4 p.m. are almost entirely because of Via," Childerhose said.
"If they slow down we will see a reduction in our sales and as a small town it’s not something we can really afford."
On Thursday, Rail Travel Tours organized a six-hour round trip from Winnipeg to Rivers in order to demonstrate the benefits of daily passenger service.
But the westbound Via train was running eight hours late, so the participants hopped on a charter bus to Rivers and then caught the eastbound train back to Winnipeg.
Brenda Mceachern was one of the people who came from Winnipeg to show her support for train travel. Mceachern’s grandfather used to work and live at the Rivers train station.
"I would hate to see us lose rail travel. It’s a big part of our history and it’s such a nice way to travel — like when you go through the mountains, it’s so relaxing," Mceachern said.
"I wish we had as good of rail travel as they seem to have in the United States or in Europe and that it was more affordable because there are more people who would like to use the train."
The chair of the Train Station Reclamation Committee in Rivers, Donna Morken, said the 95-year-old building is a very important site to Rivers and that Via has been an excellent partner to work with during the reclamation.
"Rivers developed because of the railway — when the railway was pushing west, Rivers was the first station west of Winnipeg that was a repair depot. There used to be a turntable and a roundhouse here," Morken said.
Carol Hassard, the owner and operator of Carol’s Time Again Treasure in Rivers, has been in business for 15 years and she said a reduction in train service would negatively affect the town.
"People wander around town waiting for a train or to pick someone up and they come in to help pass the time — a lot of them do buy something, or refer the store to others," Hassard said.
Childerhose said the Rivers Chamber of Commerce hasn’t been told how the Rivers Station will be affected by the Via Rail cutbacks and that it has been difficult to get a straight answer from Via.
However, in June Via communicated the Toronto to Vancouver route, which passes through Rivers, will be reduced to two round trips per week in the off-season, but will remain at three weekly trips during peak season (May to September).
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 24, 2012