By Ted Bartlett
“The stationmaster is long since gone,” lamented the Rankin Family. Sadly, the last revenue train crawled past the legendary station at Orangedale some ten months ago. And if the American owners of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway have their way, the next activity at Orangedale – and indeed along the entire 98 miles of track between St. Peter’s Junction and Sydney – would be the scrappers removing the rails. But that must not be allowed to happen.
The original construction of this rail line was a public undertaking, and it operated for many years as part of the Intercolonial Railway, subsequently absorbed by the Crown corporation Canadian National. CN sold the entire route from Truro to Sydney to a shortline operator in 1993, and there have been several changes of ownership since – during which time there has been considerable physical deterioration of the property as traffic volumes continued to fall for a variety of reasons. In 2014 the current owner, Genesee and Wyoming, announced its intent to abandon the Sydney Subdivision, declaring the operation uneconomic. The company declined to accept renewal of a subsidy offered by the Nova Scotia government.
Last month the Province’s transportation department released a summary of three studies commissioned to investigate various aspects of the issue for the Minister’s Rail Advisory Committee. These included an engineering assessment of the condition of the line and what investment might be required to return it to an acceptable standard; an examination of economic opportunities in Cape Breton, and how they relate to continued availability of rail service; and an analysis of commodities that had until recently been moving by rail and the implications of requiring them to move to highway transport.