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Cape Breton rail issue requires action

The Scotia Rail Development Society (SRDS) is inviting the Liberal leadership candidates along with Conservative and NDP party leaders to take a position on the Cape Breton rail issue as it relates to:

  • regional economic development
  • public safety
  • savings for taxpayers
  • Cape Breton's concern for the environment.
column cape breton rail issue requires action

Fall colours and falling leaves frame this portion of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway in Balls Creek from October 2019. The Scotia Rail Development Society is inviting Liberal leadership candidates along with Conservative and NDP party leaders to take a position on the dormant railway.

While Cape Breton and Scotia Rail strongly support the Sydney Port Development project, our concerns extend to this region’s diverse economic needs; trade barriers; public safety; local businesses that are unable to grow due to the prohibitive freight costs by road transport; others that need to relocate 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 and added upkeep of new highway systems; the ongoing restoration of road surfaces due to heavy transport trucks; and, above all, the emergent and compounding concerns related to climate change.

In all instances, the solution is rail – a modest investment, all things considered.

The Grant Thornton Viability Study (July 2019) makes a specific strategic recommendation 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 linkage is an essential component of port development, it is also seen as necessary to the survivability of the CBRM as a municipality.


We encourage the Province of Nova Scotia to establish a policy that includes rail as a standard part of our infrastructure, similar to highways. Scotia Rail requested that the Government of Canada refurbish the line and bring it back up to Class 3 track standards. Refurbishment for the entire line would cost $135 million. When it comes to big government, this is not a lot of money. A greater portion to fund the rail would have to flow from the federal government's infrastructure program, cost-shared with Nova Scotia and the owner of the line.

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. As stated by former CBRM mayor Cecil Clarke, rail is key to Newfoundland’s constitutionally guaranteed supply chain. More than 100,000 containers are carried by Marine Atlantic annually (200,000 both ways). This cargo alone is enough to make the Sydney short line commercially viable.

We strongly encourage cooperation between the premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Scotia Rail proposes that these provinces make a joint application to the federal government for the repair and upgrading of the Truro to Sydney line. A rail system out of Cape Breton will substantially benefit Halifax, all of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.


Despite an ever-changing geopolitical landscape to which Novaporte has responded with swift and effective adjustments, the extensive work is in place, including the necessary shipping lines and port operators. The only holdup is an operating rail. And rail is essential to attract not just current but future global trade opportunities.

According to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, a $500-million private sector investment in Novaporte’s first phase is estimated to create 12,814 jobs, $896 million in wages and $139 million in regional, provincial and federal taxes during construction; the annual operations of the first phase are estimated to create 2,647 jobs, $137 million in wages and $61 million in taxes for the three levels of government. The revitalization of our rail line will create significant long-term employment and new opportunities for our Cape Breton businesses and communities to thrive. Cape Breton rail will position Nova Scotia as a true gateway to Canada and the United States, not unlike the Prince Rupert, B.C., model.

In 2018, the UN warned of 12 years remaining to prevent a climate change catastrophe. 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. The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) tells us that rail is three times more eco-friendly than truck: “In Canada, rail can move one tonne of freight 215 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. Furthermore, a single freight train is capable of removing over 300 trucks from our congested road and highway network.” Transportation is acknowledged as a major contributor to greenhouse gases, 24 per cent. The opportunity is here for political candidates to show their awareness of this urgent global matter and how they plan to make a difference.


Of primary importance should be the safety of our citizens. A rehabilitated railway has the potential to divert hundreds of transport trucks from highways 104 and 105. Sadly, sadly, safety must be given more serious thought.

Nova Scotia has an abundance of natural resources in global demand. In order to market these products, rail is required. This infrastructure will facilitate new European market access for a wide range of local products, overall, dramatically increasing multilateral bulk trade. Nova Scotia, a coastal province, with the lowest per capita income, correspondingly, has the lowest trade to GDP ratio in the country at 12.8 per cent compared to New Brunswick at 35.4 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador at 31.1 per cent. The national average is at 25.7 per cent. There is a disparity even within the Atlantic region. As a coastal province, trade should never be an issue. There is a better way.

As citizens and proponents of the rail, we have everything on our side except for one key ingredient, the political will of the provincial government. How can you ensure a visionary government that will be less Halifax-centric? We ask all candidates to take a position on the issue of Cape Breton rail service and by extension, Newfoundland and include it as part of your official platform. Please place your response in the Cape Breton Post (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), the Chronicle Herald (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) and include it at your website. Let the voters examine your response to issues as they relate to rail in Cape Breton. Then let them decide.

Jim Guy is board director and Mary C. MacPherson is board secretary/director of the Scotia Rail Development Society.

Posted in News

Our Mission Is Fivefold:

  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
  5. Demonstrate that rail transport is the most affordable and environmentally friendly land transport for climate change

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