A glimmer of hope for Cape Breton rail?

An orange and yellow train with bright headlights heads directly towards the viewer under cloudy fall skies.
Could the CBNS run to Sydney once again? (Photo by Tim Hayman)

Just as the date approaches that the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia (CBNS) Railway can apply to abandon the Sydney Subdivision, there’s a little glimmer of hope that the line might not be quite dead yet. On November 19th, Harbor Port Development Partners (HPDP) and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) issued a press release announcing that they are in discussions with CBNS to provide rail service for any future port developments in Sydney.

The HPDP was established to develop and market a deep water container port in Sydney, along with an adjacent logistics park. HPDP was also charged by CBRM with assembling a consortium of marine and financial service partners to realize this project. For such a project to be a success, securing suitable transportation options is an important step: hence the decision to reach out to the CBNS. There’s no doubt that a rail link would be extremely valuable for this sort of project.

Of course none of this guarantees that a container port is any nearer to becoming a reality; it does, however, present an interesting opportunity to preserve the line in the immediate term. If CBNS is in discussions to provide rail service in the future, presumably it would be counter to their interests (and possibly counter to any agreement they may reach) to follow through with abandoning the line to Sydney. The result may instead be to “rail bank” the line for the time being, preserving the infrastructure for future development. This is one of the short-term options being pushed for by the Scotia Rail Development Society, and would facilitate more time to develop options for re-opening the line and restoring service in the future.

The press release offers some hope that the railway may be rethinking its immediate abandonment plans:

Although the railway has received approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to discontinue rail service on the portion of its rail line between St. Peter’s Junction and Sydney, Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway Limited executives have instead decided to work cooperatively with HPDP to further common goals, including the promotion of the container terminal and the re-commencement of rail service from the terminal lands in the future.

“We look forward to explore the feasibility of this project from a potential transportation partner prospective. CBNS is an important employer in the province and if this project materializes it may constitute an important step to secure the future of the Cape Breton line,” said Louis Gravel, President of CBNS.


You can read the full press release HERE.

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