Sydney man campaigning to save railway in mother's memory
SYDNEY — A quarter of a century ago, Gord Seury’s mother campaigned for the return of passenger rail service to Cape Breton.
On Wednesday, the 74-year-old Sydney resident was one of about 60 people who attended the latest meeting of the Scotia Rail Development Society, the local organization aiming to preserve Cape Breton’s railroad infrastructure in hopes of once again having trains roll across the island.
Seury said he showed up at the meeting at Sydney's Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion because of his late mother’s love of the railway. And he brought a full-page union ad that appeared in the Dec. 14, 1991, edition of the Cape Breton Post. The ad featured a letter written by his mother Alma and included picture of her on the old tracks.
“She loved it, she would take the train a few times a year to visit family down the line and she made a few trips out West — she loved the train,” said Seury, whose mother died in 1995 at age 79.
“She did what she could do to save the service then, so I guess I decided to come out and see if I can help out now.”
The gathering was more of a working meeting than an open public debate about the future of rail transportation in Cape Breton. For the most part, those in attendance were already committed to the cause.
Group spokesman Greg MacLeod said the rail issue is complicated and that proponents of keeping railroad options open in Cape Breton are determined to do their homework so that logistics, legalities and other complexities are understood.
“We have some committees that could use some more help, we need a new chair and we want to get at least 10,000 signatures on our petition — we want to get a groundswell of support,” said MacLeod.
The petition he referenced calls for political leaders to “provide regulatory and financial support to preserve and maintain the rail infrastructure in Cape Breton."
The society has an impressive list of members with varying areas of expertise. It has already established a number of committees including groups dedicated to fronts such as communications, technical issues and government liaison.
Another committee is looking into how the existing tracks might be utilized by a tourist train operation. People at the meeting were told of a cache of about 20 self-propelled rail cars in Moncton that might be an option if a seasonal tourist train becomes a reality.
The society also continued its search for a replacement for former chair David Rae, who recently left his position as Cape Breton University’s dean of business to return to the United Kingdom. Nominations for the post are being accepted.
The last freight train rolled across Cape Breton in December. Last year, Genesee and Wyoming, the American owners of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, opted out of a government subsidy program. The owner has repeatedly stated it needs to tranport 10,000 cars per year to break even. It claims it only hauled 500 cars across Cape Breton in 2014. The company plans to abandon the line that it picked up as a part of a package of railways it purchased in 2012. However, it can’t apply to do so until April.
In the meantime, organizers said social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, will be used extensively to spread public awareness of the railway and its long-term importance in the future of Cape Breton's economy.
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