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Cape Breton group calls for public policy discussion on rail

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Published on August 22, 2016

SYDNEY — As the future of rail in Cape Breton remains a question mark, members of the Scotia Rail Development Society would like to see governments engage in a serious public policy discussion about rail infrastructure in Nova Scotia and across the country.

“Canada as a country doesn’t really have a clear transportation policy in regards to railways,” said rail society member Jason Morrison. “It is time for Canada to step up to the international plate and define the role of railways in Canada for Canadians, not for railway companies.”

Specifically, Morrison would like to see a moratorium on rail line removal across Canada — a move that would prevent rail companies or operators from ever being permitted to tear up tracks. Morrison said the society views the actual rail lines as public infrastructure.

The Scotia Rail Development Society formed in 2015 in an effort to save rail service in Cape Breton.

Last year, Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway owner Genesee & Wyoming discontinued service on the portion of the line between the St. Peter's junction and Sydney, citing low traffic. And since April 1, Genesee & Wyoming has been eligible to apply to abandon the Cape Breton portion of the short-line railway, but it hasn’t yet done so.

“It’s kind of a wait and see with Genesee & Wyoming,” said Morrison. “We really are in limbo until they make a decision on what they plan on doing.”

But that doesn’t mean the provincial and federal governments shouldn’t be planning for all possible outcomes, according to Morrison.

“The (society) board considers the rail to be an important part of economic infrastructure and therefore it’s up to the government to design a public policy to prevent the elimination of rail service to Cape Breton,” he said.

Morrison said it’s time governments at all levels recognize that rail is the cheapest and cleanest form of ground transportation, noting that active rail lines could help extend the life of many highways.
“For every dollar they put in a railway, that goes much further than a dollar invested in a highway,” he said. “So if you put $5 million a year into your rail network, and you can get that truck traffic back on the rails, then you’re probably going to save $10 million in highway repairs, so it would be a cost-saving for the province to have a functional rail system, but at its current slow speeds of operation you’re never going to attract that truck traffic.”

In a release, the society noted that its online petition to save the railway in Cape Breton is ongoing and people can sign by visiting their website at www.scotiarail.ca.

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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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