They fell in love with the railroad, now they’re campaigning for its return to Gaspé, Que. IG News

Irshadgul News report,

Via Rail has been a big part of Gilles Lamy’s life, even after his retirement.

He worked in Gaspé as a train conductor and locomotive engineer for 37 years and remembers how important the railway was to the region.

“We used to travel with many people, [there was] A lot of tourism,” Lamy said. “For just one example, we had … 24,000 people between 1998 and 2008.”

Lamy worked for the Crown corporation until his retirement in 2011 – just two years before the company suspended the Gaspé route due to erosion and track maintenance issues.

Today Lamy is busy doing something else: campaigning for the return of passenger rail service. It’s something he and his wife, Dominique Léger, another former Via Rail employee, have taken on together. The Coalition des Gaspésiens withdrew the train route through the railroad.

They are among those who argue that with the Gaspé Peninsula cut off from travel due to reduced air and bus service, rail service is more essential than ever.

a love story begins

One of Lammy’s fondest memories of the train service is how it brought her and Leger together decades ago.

He was in his late 20s. She was 21 and had moved from Montreal to Gaspé to work for Via Rail for six months.

“It’s the new girl,” a friend told her.

“We met and three years later we got married,” he recalls. “She’s been here now [for] 36 years.”

A woman smiles while pushing a luggage cart in which two children are sitting.  There is a man in a suit next to the train tracks behind the car.  The name of the train station is visible in the corner and reads New Carlisle.
Dominique Léger pictured rolling a luggage cart with one of her daughter’s friends in 1995. She says she often brought her children to work at New Carlisle station. (Submitted by Dominic Leger)

Léger fell more in love with Gilles Lamy.

Leger said, “When they cut the train, it broke my heart. My kids were raised in a train station. It’s a wound that never heals.” “I fell in love with the job, with Gilles, with the city, with everything.”

The two are helping the coalition campaign for the return of a passenger rail line to the city of New Carlisle earlier this year, after track work restored the rail lines.

‘There is no reason not to bring back the train’

Rev. Cynthia Patterson, an administrator for the coalition, says the tracks have been repaired as far as New Carlisle through a program run by the Quebec government, which now owns the tracks.

Patterson said, “There’s no technical reason, no safety reason. The railroad will then meet all the requirements for a passenger train. So there’s no reason not to bring the train back.” “The Ministry of Transport has invested a lot of money in repairs so far.”

A woman is sitting on an orange sofa in her living room.
Reverend Cynthia Patterson has spent the last 35 years fighting for more transportation options in her community. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

She says that the absence of a passenger train is one of the transportation challenges that Gasparians face.

In 2020, Air Canada ceased service to the peninsulaLeaving the communities with only a few small carriers, Pascan Aviation and PAL Airlines.

But airfare is expensive, too subsidy Provided by the province.

Taking the bus is an option, Patterson said, but a few years ago about half the stops were cut.

“At a time when much government policy is oriented towards reducing fossil fuel fumes, we have been forced to resort to different cars,” Patterson said.

“People desperately need the train. They need to seek specialized health services for both diagnosis and treatment in Quebec and Montreal … They need it for economic reasons.”

Full service only when the tracks are completely repaired

Although repairs to the tracks have been completed as far as New Carlisle, Patterson says the train is unlikely to return until more of the railway is restored.

“Via Rail has said that they will only return to Gaspé [region] When Rails Is Refurbished All the Way [the town of] Gasp. It could be 2027, it could be 2030, we don’t know… but the fact is the rail is ready to New Carlisle right now. So for Via Rail, they’re putting their money and their priorities elsewhere, especially Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, the famous urban corridors,” Patterson said.

“Now, we don’t think that those places should be without reform… We agree with all of these things, but not at the cost of [the] Complete abandonment of Gaspe.”

Via Rail did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview, but confirmed in a written statement that it intends to resume service in the region once infrastructure is in place for Gaspé with “competitive travel times”. Enables service in all respects.

A train pulls into a station.
New Carlisle station used to welcome many commuters and tourists to the area. (Submitted by Dominic Leger)

The only driving option for some Gaspesians

Meanwhile, Gaspé’s Holly leaves people like Hackett dependent on her car if she wants to visit her family out of province.

Last July, she drove through the night after receiving a phone call from her brother with the news he had cancer.

Hackett covered over 1,100 kilometers with her sister.

“We arrived in Ottawa, it was like 12 hours later,” Hackett said.

For three months, Hackett remained in Ontario to care for her brother and help with his treatment. But he had to return in November and she could not visit him again due to transportation challenges.

She’s planning a trip this week — the first she’ll see him in months — carpooling with another family who’s in the same boat.

He remembered how easy traveling used to be when there were trains.

“It was a pleasure,” Hackett said. “People around the coast really enjoyed it. And after it was suspended, people had to find other ways to get to different cities and with airfare being so expensive, not many of them could afford it.” Couldn’t.”

She says she knows she is “not the only one” who thinks the train service could change things for the better.

Hackett said, “I think if the train came out to New Carlisle and they had shuttle service, I think that would be a great thing for a lot of the seniors here.” “Most people really enjoyed [the train] But that’s all over … It’s depressing.”