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Opinion: Restore rail service to Cape Breton

opinion Aug 2016Trains can move cargo far more cheaply than trucks, so why do we allow railways to abandon track?MARY MACPHERSON & MADELINE LAWLER
Published August 26, 2016

RAILWAYS are a driving force in the economy, offering the cheapest and cleanest form of ground transportation. For almost 20 years, rail companies have been allowed to regulate themselves and abandon lines, with almost no government intervention or concern for communities they serve.

Rail companies are profit driven. Moving traffic to trucks on taxpayer-funded highways is cheaper for them than running a train on low-traffic lines they have to maintain. But is this really better for communities, the economy and the environment?

How about protecting Nova Scotia taxpayers’ investments in our highways by diverting more truck traffic to railways? Rail could help trucking companies that face driver shortages and, in the long run, unstable fuel prices.

Trailers or containers on flatcars enable trucking firms to offer their drivers shorter runs, so they can be at home with their families instead of sleeping in overnight cabs.

Nova Scotia seems only focused on highways and ferries. If our remaining rail lines received investment, railways would be better equipped to run at faster speeds and to attract more traffic from highways. This would help reduce road wear and lower GHG emissions.

According to the Railway Association of Canada, railways are on average four times more fuel efficient than trucks. Shifting just 10 per cent of the freight from trucks to rail would reduce GHG emissions by close to 3.6 megatonnes of CO2, comparable to taking 12 million trucks off the road.

A train can move a tonne of freight more than 200 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. Despite moving 75 million passengers and close to 70 per cent of all intercity freight each year, our railways produce just one per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions, making rail one the greenest and most energy-efficient transportation options.

Like the people of Cape Breton, the Scotia Rail Development Society (SRDS), aligned with the Sustainable Transportation Action Team (STAT) of Ecology Action Centre, wants to save and improve the rail line to Sydney — whether through public funds, some form of co-operative to ensure local control or a public-private partnership.

We also encourage Via Rail to reinstate the Sydney-to-Halifax rail diesel car run, which had some of the highest ridership of all Maritime RDC routes. It not only served people in communities along the line from Sydney to Truro, but the people of Newfoundland as well, providing them with a rail link once they exited the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal.

Via has talked about an increased presence in Atlantic Canada, announcing future Moncton-to-Campbellton and Moncton-to-Halifax routes. But why is there no mention of restoring the Sydney-to-Halifax run?

Restoring passenger rail service to Sydney would increase tourism, reduce GHG emissions and help preserve the portion of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway that runs from St. Peter’s Junction (Point Tupper) to Sydney, saving it from possible abandonment.

Railways are infrastructure and should be treated as such. When CN was privatized, Ottawa stated it was out of the transportation business. But federal funds are still spent on highways, ports and air.

Rail is the only mode of transportation that seems to be left out of significant public investment.

Privatizing CN was a terrible loss to many communities that had their rail lines ripped up to improve profits for shareholders. In June 1993, a letter from Paul Tellier, president and CEO of then Crown corporation CN Railway, assured premier John Savage that, “should Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia cease operations, Canadian National Railways agrees to ensure continuation of rail service on the Truro-Sydney provincial short line.” Who is left to honour CN and government commitments in the best interest of the community?

Greg MacLeod, SRDS co-chair, sees “a big problem” in the lack of public policy on promoting transport of freight by railway rather than highway, from both an economic and environmental point of view, and on foreign ownership of public infrastructure like railways.

Rail companies should not be permitted to abandon services to communities that will suffer from loss of a vital service. We cannot afford to pass on the opportunity to save rail in Cape Breton. The savings in restorative highway infrastructure alone will pay to restore the line to safety standards in short order.

SRDS is calling for a moratorium on rail line removal. Jason Morrison of SRDS says it is time for Canada to define the role of railways, to develop a clear mandate for VIA Rail and provide it with the funds to ensure service to its citizens.

Nova Scotia spends more than $400 million a year on highways. If even five per cent of that were allocated to improving rail lines, Nova Scotians and Canadians would have two excellent modes of transportation to drive the economy forward with a cost-efficient, reduced carbon footprint.

Transportation represents 27 per cent of Nova Scotia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and 37 per cent of energy demand. The provincial government has demonstrated strides toward energy conservation and diminished use of fossil fuels with the Newfoundland-Nova Scotia Hydro-Energy Agreement. But removal of rail would be a huge step backward.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s advisory group on sustainable transport has deemed sustainable transport as essential to climate goals. STAT maintains that sustainable transport can, in addition to reaching goals for climate, health and sustainable cities, include economic growth as well.

Please show your support by signing our on-line petition to save the rail in Cape Breton.

Mary MacPherson is co-chair of the communications committee, Scotia Rail Development Society. Madeline Lawler is co-chair of the sustainable transportation action team, Ecology Action Centre.

Copyright © 2016 Published by the Chronicle Herald. All rights reserved

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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