Scotia Rail Predicts Busy 2017
SYDNEY — A spokesman for the Scotia Railway Development Society predicts 2017 will be a busy year for the group as it works to not only maintain the railway in Cape Breton but also to encourage better public policy around rail in the province.
Greg MacLeod said the society’s prime objective was to prevent Genesee & Wyoming, owner of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, from tearing up the Cape Breton portion of the tracks and selling them. For months, the railway has been in a position where it could apply to abandon the line but it hasn’t done so.
“We succeeded in that,” he said. “Our next objective is where do we go from here, the future development, and there’s a number of possibilities on the table.”
In a recent interview, Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said Genesee & Wyoming has not taken any steps to abandon the railway. He also noted that in recent discussions around the future of port development in Sydney harbour, the railway has shown a willingness to be at the table.
The railway has said it will work with the team marketing the port of Sydney for development, but that it wouldn't necessarily change its plans to apply to abandon the line. Rail will be critical to any future port development and the port has been identified as the only real potential source of new railway traffic.
But MacLeod said developing the port would take time and the railway can’t be allowed to continue to deteriorate in the meantime.
“We want to make sure that the rail bed is maintained, and in order to do that you have to use it,” he said.
The province brought in new regulations to oversee the abandonment process. The first step any railway company must take to abandon a line is to notify the provincial transportation minister and affected municipalities.
While much of the talk of possible future business for the railway has centred on the port, MacLeod noted there are other factors at play, including the pending opening of the Donkin mine.
“Instead of shipping by road ... we say it makes economic sense and environmental sense to ship it by rail from Donkin to Sydney because the Sydney Coal Railway exists and it’s a very efficient, well-run small railway, so we’d like to build on that,” he said.
The main goal is to have a strongly established railway from Sydney to Truro, MacLeod said. That will require a shift in the provincial government’s approach to transportation policy, with a broader vision that isn’t so focused only on road links.
“Over the next year we’re going to spend a lot of time talking to government officials about public policy as a priority of the Nova Scotia government to move freight by road or move freight by rail,” MacLeod said. “Basically, it’s a political question, a question of public policy.”
Getting more freight off the roads will cause less wear and tear on the province’s costly highway system, as well as cause less environmental damage, he said.
They will also lobby the province to study the Seal Island Bridge and whether there should be weight limits for trucks travelling it, and also the potential cost of eventually having to replace the bridge.
“If Seal Island bridge deteriorates, that would be a huge government expenditure,” MacLeod said. “Rather than wait until it’s too late, we’d like the government to be analytical ... . Public policy should be based on data, not just on who is more influential.”
Highways, seaways and railways are fundamental economic development infrastructure, he added.
It would cost more than $30 million over five years to bring the Sydney subdivision of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway up to standard, reports commissioned to look at the future of the line have found. Break-even volume for the Sydney subdivision is 10,000 return carloads per year. By last year, the track was seeing fewer than 500 carloads per year.
Cape Breton Progressive Conservative MLAs issued a news release this week noting that at the public accounts committee, the Stephen McNeil Liberals were questioned about the millions of dollars they have invested in the Yarmouth ferry. The release quoted deputy transportation minister Paul Lafleche that the ferry was "not about economics, but about re-establishing historical transportation links."
“If the government is so committed to historical transportation links, then why do they continue to put the Cape Breton rail at risk? Sounds like a double standard to me.” Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg MLA Alfie MacLeod said in the release.
“If that is indeed a policy being set out by this government, I think there is a very good argument to be made that the Cape Breton railway would fit within those parameters,” Northside-Westmount MLA Eddie Orrell added. “Not only is the railway an historical transportation link, but it's an economic driver for the region. If that railway line is torn up, that’s a real economic blow for those who have historically relied on the railway to transport goods and support jobs."
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