Scotia Rail Development Society Seeks Response from Federal Candidates
15 October 2019 – Cape Breton Post
Fifteen thousand petition signatures of the citizens of Cape Breton and beyond, letters of support from mayors from Cape Breton to Truro, and from organizations and businesses around the island all reflect the concern about rail service for Cape Breton.
Scotia Rail Development Society (SRDS) continues to protect community interests and bring the rail issue to the attention of politicians.
Paid for with public dollars over 135 years ago, the Cape Breton railway was in service until 2015, when the US-based owner was granted discontinuance on the Sydney Sub-division. Unfortunately, the current Nova Scotia Railway Act has no end date for discontinuance.
It would appear the province's interest in preserving the St. Peters Junction to Sydney portion of the railway is conditional and limited to the success of the Sydney Port Development project. While the Scotia Rail Development Society strongly supports the Port, our concerns extend to the diverse economic needs of this region; local businesses that are unable to grow due to the prohibitive freight costs; others that may need to relocate to other centres including out of province for rail access; higher cost point of commodities delivered to Cape Breton and Newfoundland; needless exorbitant cost to the province for the building of new highway systems as a way to address congestion and safety; the ongoing restoration of road surfaces due to heavy trucks; and above all, the emergent and compounding concerns related to climate change. A large part of the solution is rail - a modest investment, all things considered.
The Grant Thornton Viability Study (July 2019) makes specific strategic recommendations for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), in order for it to rise above its dire financial circumstance. Among others, the report calls for the "improvement of accessibility to the region" hosting the CBRM communities. Rail services would be a pivotal reclamation for the island. While re-establishing the rail link is an essential component of Port development, it is also seen as necessary to the survivability of the CBRM as a municipality.
The Province of Nova Scotia should establish a policy that includes rail as a standard part of our infrastructure, similar to highways. Currently we allow others to decide whether profit and shareholder return are more important than the demands put on the CBRM's already excessively high tax dollar; more important than safety; more important than the economic growth of our region; even more important than the air we breathe.
In an ever-changing geopolitical landscape, the extensive work is in place to have our port ready to meet not just current but future global trade opportunities. An operating rail is essential to attract business. In a recent correspondence to the Prime Minister of Canada, Scotia Rail requested that the Government of Canada refurbish the line and bring it back up to Class 3 track standards. Refurbishment would be at a cost of $103 Million. Scotia Rail also proposed that the ownership of the restored line be turned over to the Province of Nova Scotia or to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. This would honor the 1993 commitment made by then crown-owned CN, to the Province of Nova Scotia that “...should Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia cease operations, Canadian National Railways agrees to ensure the continuation of rail service on the Truro-Sydney provincial short-line.” It would allow a new operator to be contracted to provide cost-efficient service. A reactivated rail line could transport containerized goods to and from other major centres and be transloaded in North Sydney for further shipment to Newfoundland at a simple inter-modal terminal consisting of a paved yard and top-lift equipment.
In a recent submission to the Cape Breton Post (Cape Breton's rail line in danger of being dismantled, published on page C1, Sept. 10) Ted Bartlett, Moncton-based Transport Action Atlantic, stated that the total expenditure required would be equivalent to the cost of twinning just a few kilometers of existing highway. It could be argued that the savings to the province with the use of rail could alone meet the criteria for a sound business case.
Canada Chamber of Commerce views shortline railways such as the Sydney to Truro line as one of the top ten solutions to trade barriers. Transport Canada views the shortline as a key component to regional economic development. The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) tells us: In Canada, rail can move one tonne of freight 215 kilometers on a single liter of fuel. Furthermore, a single freight train is capable of removing over 300 trucks from our congested road and highway network.
Think of driving highways 104 and 105 - or any other highway - without hundreds of transport trucks. Think of the savings of your taxpayer dollars in highway restoration. Think of your added safety. Think of the air you breathe.
In 2018, the UN warned of 12 years remaining to prevent a climate change catastrophe. It is stated that under the U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative, railways work with Transport Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for locomotives. Major railways in Canada, CN and CP, participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project which calls for accountability for carbon emissions and ways to reduce emissions. As part of the global effort to meet the challenges of climate change, the Government of Canada's historic infrastructure plan of $180 Billion over 12 years includes the shortline railway.
Transportation is acknowledged as a major contributor to greenhouse gases, a total of 30 percent. The opportunity is here for you the candidate to show your awareness of this urgent global matter and how you plan to make a difference.
As citizens and proponents of the rail, we have everything on our side, all but one key ingredient, the political will of local politicians.
During this federal campaign we ask candidates of all parties to take a stand on the issue of rail service for Cape Breton and by extension, Newfoundland, and present your platform to the Cape Breton Post for all to see along with any other means of communication you choose. Let the voters know your stand on the rail issue.
Then let the voters decide.
Jim Guy, Board of Directors
Mary MacPherson, Secretary, Board of Directors
Scotia Rail Development Society
Copyright 2019 Cape Breton Post
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