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Rail is Cape Breton’s Lost Infrastructure

Connectivity the key economic contribution of resurrected island rail service

  • Cape Breton Post
  • 22 Jul 2020
  • Dr. Jim Guy is an author and professor emeritus of political science at Cape Breton University. JIM GUY This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. @CapeBretonPost

When the COVID-19 menace finally lifts, where will we be in Cape Breton? The devastating effects of this virus to the island’s economy still have to be calculated and reconciled against whatever resources we have left to muster. Will it be the same ol’, same ol’ for all matters of economic development to move this island forward?

Jim Guy

For Cape Breton that means waiting for the provincial government which is already strongly committed to the urban primacy of the capital region. Otherwise our 20 per cent unemployment, highest taxation, rampant poverty and business closures will settle right back into the island’s narrative. Like poverty, inertia will be the lingering consequence.

Geography gave Cape Breton great advantage as a coastal centre, positioned to serve as a gateway to Atlantic commerce. While a gateway on the Atlantic has regrettably not been announced by the federal government such an announcement would bring the necessary infrastructure investments and government funding to fully service a gateway, similar to the Pacific gateway on the west coast.

A gateway opening from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) connects our markets to most of Europe, Canada, the United States, Asia and the Caribbean. There are shifting supply chains in Asia, redirecting commerce to the east coast. That’s part of the reason why east coast marine traffic is growing. It is a significant opportunity to invest in a deep water port right off of the CBRM. But also another reason to include a functional rail service to the mainland.

Not being considered is that there is a strong commercial case to benefit Cape Breton from strategic linkage with Newfoundland. It simply means more Atlantic business and trade passing through the CBRM. Newfoundland brings goods faster and cheaper to Cape Breton. The commercial case means jobs for them, gains for us.

An invigorated rail service from Sydney to Truro is the linchpin to our economic development. It places us at the cusp of great opportunity globally. In fact, a rail strategy will link the economic development of the entire province with the CBRM, the Mi’kmaq First Nation and the federal government.

Three prominent organizations have already supported moving forward on rail Transport Action Atlantic, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Transport Canada.

The Chamber of Commerce needs to advocate more forcefully for the rebuilding of our rail infrastructure. The pandemic interrupted the consideration of an economic strategy that would benefit the province as well as Cape Breton. We need the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to take a bold supportive public stand for the rail. The Cape Breton Chamber could partner with one of Newfoundland’s to give rail powerful endorsement across the two provinces.

A rail reconnects Cape Breton to the transportation network of the mainland economy of Nova Scotia as well as to Newfoundland.

Nova Scotia needs to expand its bulk port facilities to grow its exports. We need to alert the shipping industry and include them in our plans for economic growth. They should be invited to hear our arguments in support of port development.

But port development, however significant, is not the only solution for the island’s economic growth. The diverse economic needs of the island must be met with an enhanced rail service by itself to connect all island communities more efficiently, not just a benefit to Sydney.

That especially includes a rail strategy for tourism as well as inter-island transportation to service business needs everyday within the CBRM. Thus, connectivity would be the main economic contribution of a resurrected island rail service.

The provincial government seems more committed to building highways. A reinstalled rail system for Cape Breton will greatly diminish those costs to the province and stimulate local economies. Business efficiencies involving port logistics and port services will result from these upgraded rail investments.

The rail should never have been shut down on Cape Breton in the first place. Shame on the myopic Liberal government that did it and on the current one, too busy tripping over its own ethical misjudgements to include Cape Breton with the rest of Canada.

Provincial MLAs and our MPs need to make some noise.

Copyright © 2020 Cape Breton Post

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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