02/06/2014 12:11 EST | Updated 04/08/2014 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick communities could lose Via Rail service, says Opposition

OTTAWA - The federal New Democrats are pushing the Harper government to save a vital rail line in eastern Canada.

New Democrat MP Yvon Godin warns that, without federal help, communities east of Quebec will lose the already reduced service that Via Rail provides in the region.

CN Rail has announced it will abandon a 70-kilometre stretch of track between Miramichi and Bathurst in New Brunswick because it no longer carries freight on the line. Via Rail has said it can't afford to buy the line, let alone maintain it.

At a news conference Thursday in Ottawa, Godin said unless Ottawa steps in, passenger service from Quebec to the Maritimes will no longer exist.

He noted that CN has already pledged $30 million to maintain the tracks, and the New Brunswick government has offered $25 million.

Claude Williams, New Brunswick's minister of transportation and infrastructure, said the province has been in ongoing discussions in an effort to get Ottawa and Via Rail to spend money on the line.

But he said the province isn't interested in buying that section of track.

"We've been clear that we have invested on the two segments that dealt mainly with the freight business," Williams said. "The line in between is mainly used by Via Rail."

Godin and fellow New Democrat MP Philip Toone presented a petition at the news conference with more than 25,000 signatures calling on Ottawa to invest in the line.

Godin said $10 million is needed to save rail service for the region.

"We will lose Via Rail if we lose the track between Miramichi to Bathurst," said Godin, who represents the New Brunswick riding of Acadie-Bathurst.

"It is a shame to see the federal government not participating into it."