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Efforts to save Cape Breton rail line chug along

rail signA Genesee and Wyoming sign is seen in this file photo of the rail line in Sydney.By Nancy King Cape Breton Post, Published on August 11, 2015

SYDNEY — The annual inspection on Cape Breton's rail line is up this week, meaning the already-rare sighting of a moving train in Cape Breton will be non-existent.

A Genesee and Wyoming sign is seen in this file photo of the rail line in Sydney.

As it stands, commercial traffic on the line has ceased, with owner Genesee and Wyoming having discontinued service on the Sydney-to-St. Peter's junction section of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway. It had been occasionally used to move locomotives to Sydney for repair and maintenance, however.

But David Rae, chair of the Scotia Rail Development Society that formed in an effort to save the line, said that will no longer be the case once the required annual track inspection expires.

"We understand there were two locomotives that were having some maintenance work done in Sydney and that they would be heading back before Friday, but we don't know any more than that," Rae said.

Because the service has been discontinued, the province has no more current information related to that issue, Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said, adding that it doesn't change the game for the government.

"It's sort of in a holding pattern. Obviously, there is no commercial traffic, the rails are still in the ground and we're in our process through the advisory committee and they'll apply for abandonment when they're able," MacLellan said.

The society has also raised concerns over reports the railway intended to soon dig up the rails. However, MacLellan said legally the railway is not allowed to proceed with that process until it can apply for abandonment in April 2016, due to changes the Liberal government introduced to the province's Railway Act.

"They are not permitted to do any removal, or any interference, or any work on the tracks in terms of removing the actual assets," he said.

Once Genesee and Wyoming applies for abandonment, then the province will have time to perform its due diligence in terms of possible environmental concerns and other issues.

"There's a lot of moving parts here and many things that can happen between now and the spring of 2016," MacLellan said.

The minister’s rail advisory committee recently received reports outlining what happened to lost rail line traffic, potential sources of new traffic and the investment that will be needed to bring the line back to safe operating condition.

The reports are likely to include information the province could use to determine whether to grant an application for abandonment by the current line owner, Genesee and Wyoming, which withdrew rail service on the line in December.

Rae and the society have been pushing for the public release of those reports.

"The first thing that they can do is release the three reports ... they've said they will (make those public) by the end of the summer, I've asked them several times and they've not given me a date when they're going to make them public," Rae said.

MacLellan said the department is waiting for the members of the rail advisory committee to give the signal to release the reports, after they have had time to digest them. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality and federal government have also put money into the studies and will need to sign off, he added.

"It's such a sensitive issue and important to Cape Bretoners, I'd like to have all that information public so people can see exactly what we're looking at and what the information is that we're ultimately going to use to make a decision," MacLellan said.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke said it's his understanding the reports are currently still in draft form and he's hopeful the final versions will be made public early next month.

"I think it's going to be helpful to have those documents in hand and then we move forward from there," he said.

"From an operating point of view, the bigger thing is to use those studies to help with the other work we’re doing to get activity into the port and hopefully on the rail line," Clarke said.

Rail will be an important part of any opportunity to connect the port of Sydney to the Midwest marketplace, Clarke said, adding it wouldn't stop other possible traffic such as trans-shipment and break bulk.

"You have to know what the cost of doing business and improving the line is going to be," he said.

Copyright 2015 Cape Breton Post

Posted in News

Our Mission Is Fourfold:

  1. Explore various options for continuation of the rail service to Sydney, Cape Breton
  2. Demonstrate the vital importance regionally in order to support the continuation of the rail link to Sydney, Cape Breton
  3. Support efforts to ensure continuation of the rail link to Sydney, Cape Breton
  4. Secure in perpetuity the right of way of the line

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