Chet Greason, Metroland Media
On a cold Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, with temperatures dropping to minus 15 degrees, around 70 intrepid protesters marched in front of the Stratford VIA station in protest to cuts to services.
Recently, cities and towns along the Toronto-to-Sarnia line have seen two trains pulled from the schedule. And despite attempts by citizens and public officials to increase services along the line, which includes stops in Stratford and St. Marys, VIA has not budged, claiming the cuts were necessary for cost-saving reasons.
The candles people brought on Tuesday could barely stay lit due to the frigid, blowing wind; however, a long line of willing protesters guaranteed attendees the opportunity to swap in and out for warm-up time inside the building’s foyer.
Chris West, one of the organizers of the protest and a prominent figure in the fight for more train services, said the reason behind the protest was two-fold:
“The first part of the message we want to send is to get the cancelled trains moving again; the second is to pressure VIA Rail to begin providing more of the types of services people need.”
He added the environmental impact of too many people commuting in cars is another reason train services should be expanding instead of shrinking.
In attendance was Mayor Dan Mathieson, who applauded the dedication of Chris West and all the others who came out in sub-zero temperatures to protest the cuts.
“It’s imperative to stand together to support this cause,” he said. “I have to walk the walk and talk the talk to support rail services. Today, I’m walking the walk.”
When asked about VIA’s refusal to revisit its decision, Mathieson noted the company may not be the one protesters should be addressing.
“Sure, they’re adamant ... but at the end of the day, we need to keep the pressure on the government who provides the spending. VIA’s doing what it can with the envelope they’ve been given. It’s up to us to see that the envelope is enlarged.”
Stratford resident Elizabeth Ainslie said she relies on the train every week to visit her elderly mother, who lives in a nursing home in Toronto. As she doesn’t own a car, she was protesting because she sees regular train service to the area as vital.
“If the train goes, we have no form of public transport outside of the city,” she said. “Many people, for various reasons, can’t or won’t drive cars into city centres like London or Toronto.
“They rely on the train for medical reasons ... students need it to get to and from school ... it’s a vital link,” she added.