Cape Breton group aims to protect rail service
By Tom Ayers © Chronicle Herald - Cape Breton Bureau
SYDNEY - Greg MacLeod was one of the last passengers on the Via Rail coach that ran between Sydney and Halifax before it was discontinued about 25 years ago.
And the 79-year-old Catholic priest and retired university professor wants to see a similar service come back.
But for that to happen, Cape Breton Island needs railway tracks.
“I was on the last rail-liner out of Sydney,” MacLeod said. “I wanted to pay attention to the views. There’s nothing like it outside of the Rocky Mountains.
“Anyone who’s travelled a bit, the most beautiful train ride you could take, other than the Rocky Mountains, is the one around the Bras d’Or Lake.”
MacLeod helped found the new Scotia Rail Development Society, which is hosting a membership drive and update on efforts to protect Cape Breton’s rail line, on Friday from noon to 2 p.m., at Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in Sydney.
He said those who attend will hear about provincial efforts to determine the maintenance and upgrading costs associated with keeping the rail line intact, and to determine whether there is any new business that can make the line financially viable.
Someone from the provincial Ministers Rail Advisory Committee, created last year to study the issues and make recommendations, is expected to speak at Friday’s event, said MacLeod.
Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway’s American owner, Genesee & Wyoming, discontinued service on the line across Cape Breton on Jan. 1 and has said it intends to apply for abandonment as soon as possible, because that portion of the line is unprofitable.
According to new provincial regulations, the earliest the company could apply is October and the abandonment process will likely take an additional six months.
MacLeod said people need to join the society and make the government aware of citizens’ concerns about the potential loss of the rail line.
“It’s important that the government know there’s widespread concern in Cape Breton to keep the railway.”
The society has invited Conservative senator Michael MacDonald, who represents Cape Breton in the upper chamber, to speak at the event.
MacLeod said the group hopes MacDonald will lobby the federal government to get federal Crown corporation Marine Atlantic and CN Rail, which was a Crown corporation but has been privatized, involved in discussions about the Cape Breton rail line.
However, MacDonald said in a telephone interview Monday he won’t be available this week due to the upcoming funeral in Montreal for the late Speaker of the Senate, Pierre Claude Nolin, who died Friday.
MacDonald said he firmly believes the Cape Breton rail line should remain intact, but it is a provincial matter and the province’s rail advisory committee is still studying the issues.
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