Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Amtrak, VIA Rail, CN reach Maple Leaf accord

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Amtrak's Maple Leaf will continue to use the upper level of the Whirlpool Bridge, linking Niagara Falls, N.Y., with Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, following an agreement aimed at keeping the bridge in serviceable condition.

Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, joined by CN and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, reached accord after more than four years of negotiations, according to a report by Buffalo Business First. The agreement also bolsters an effort by Niagara Falls, N.Y. to renovate the historic Gatehouse at the base of Whirlpool Bridge as its new intermodal transportation center.

Maintenance and repair costs were the key issues involved. Under the new pact, those costs and responsibilities have been transferred to Amtrak and VIA Rail from CN, which no longer uses the route for freight operations and which had pondered abandoning the bridge.

Canadian National Railway used to front the entire repair and maintenance costs because it used the bridge as a key international route for both passenger and freight trains. However, CN stopped using the bridge for freight trains several years ago and was considering abandoning the line.

"The commission, CN and Amtrak/VIA representatives have worked hard over the last four years to ensure the continued operation of the passenger rail service on the Whirlpool Bridge," said Lew Holloway, Niagara Falls Bridge Commission general manager. "This process is now complete and train service will not be interrupted during the transition."

"We are very pleased to have reached a mutually beneficial agreement with NFBC, Amtrak and VIA," Francois Hebert, CN vice-president Network Strategies, said in a prepared statement. "The new arrangement will allow CN to transfer the rail assets to the agencies responsible for providing passenger rail service over the bridge."