The railways of Cape Breton have been steadily eroded for several decades, reducing rail service on the island to a mere skeleton of what it once was. Apart from Nova Scotia Power-owned coal shuttle trains running back and forth between Sydney’s coal piers and the Lingan power plant, the last remaining rail link across the island is the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia (CBNS) Railway’s Sydney Subdivision. Snaking its way from Sydney down along the Bras D’Or Lakes and joining the mainland of Nova Scotia via the Canso Causeway, this former CN line historically saw heavy freight trains and regular passenger services. Today, it is hardly used at all and may soon be lost for good.
Traffic on the line deteriorated through the 1990s with the closing of Cape Breton’s coal mines, along with declining rail traffic from Newfoundland and cancellation of VIA Rail passenger services. Changing hands from CN, shortline operators RailTex and RailAmerica both failed to generate greater traffic, and deferred maintenance allowed the line to fall into disrepair.
By 2014, new shortline owner Genesee and Wyoming (GWI) was running one train a week on the line. Through a combination of rate hikes, a rejection of a long-standing provincial subsidy, and an application to discontinue services, GWI aims to end any service on the line as soon as possible.
Transport Action Atlantic believes that this line provides a critical piece of transportation infrastructure for Cape Breton island, which needs to be maintained in some fashion to ensure that safe, reliable and sustainable transportation options will be a possibility in Cape Breton’s future. We will be actively involved in the fight to save this rail line, participating in the Nova Scotia UARB hearings and various town hall meetings, and ensuring that our voice is present in the conversation on this issue. Keep an eye on our website for updates on the situation, further information about what we’re doing, and opportunities for you to get involved.