Scotia Rail Development Society continues efforts to save Cape Breton rail line

The Scotia Rail Development Society (SRDS) was set up last year in response to plans from the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway to shut down and abandon its rail line from St. Peter’s Jct. to Sydney on Cape Breton. The SRDS has been actively campaigning to prevent the removal of the line, holding public meetings, gathering signatures on a petition, and looking for solutions to help keep the line in place.

Transport Action Atlantic continues to support the efforts of the SRDS to preserve the Cape Breton rail line, and supports many of the same principles regarding the role that rail should play in the transportation network of the province.

The SRDS, in association with the Sustainable Transportation Action Team (STAT) of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, has issued the following position statement regarding the railway and their ongoing efforts:



Scotia Rail Development Society logo

Cape Breton’s Contribution to Paris Agreement on Climate Change

The Scotia Rail Development Society (SRDS) is calling for Nova Scotians to encourage their MP to support the railway on Cape Breton Island. SRDS, aligned with the Sustainable Transportation Action Team (STAT) with the Ecology Action Centre, is advocating to keep the railway.

Railways are a driving force in the economy offering the cheapest and cleanest form of ground transportation. For almost twenty years railway companies have been allowed to regulate themselves and abandon lines with almost no government intervention or concern for the communities they serve. There is blame on the railway companies as well, being profit driven, forcing traffic to trucks because it is cheaper for them to truck it on tax-payer funded highways than to run a train on lower traffic lines that they, the owner, have to maintain. Is this really better for the communities, economy and the environment? How about protecting Nova Scotia taxpayers’ investments in our highways, by diverting more truck traffic to the railways? The rail could help trucking companies that face driver shortages and in the long run, unstable fuel prices. Trailers or containers on flatcars also enable trucking firms to offer their drivers shorter runs so that they can be at home with their families instead of sleeping in their overnight cabs. 

Nova Scotia as a province seems only focused on highways (and ferries). If our remaining rail lines were invested in, perhaps the railways would be better equipped to run at faster speeds and attract more trucks from the highways. This would certainly help reduce road wear and lower GHG emissions. According to the Railway Association of Canada, railways are on average four times more fuel efficient than trucks. Shifting just ten percent of the freight from trucks to rail would reduce GHG emissions by close to 3.6 megatonnes of CO2 – comparable to taking twelve million trucks off the road. A train can move a tonne of freight more than 200 km on a single litre of fuel. Despite moving 75 million passengers and close to 70% of all intercity freight each year, our railways produce just 1% of our country’s GHG emissions – making rail one of our country’s greenest and most energy efficient transportation options. We need to do as much as we can in compliance with efforts being made globally with respect to climate change. 

A dollar invested in a railway goes much further than a dollar invested in a highway, and at the same time, can help extend the life of that same highway. Scotia Rail Development Society and indeed the residents of Cape Breton want to save and improve the rail line to Sydney, whether through public funds, some form of co-operative to ensure local control, or a public-private partnership. We also encourage VIA to re- instate the Sydney to Halifax RDC run – this run had some of the highest ridership of all the Maritime RDC runs. It not only serviced people in the communities along the line from Sydney to Truro but the people of NFLD as well, providing them with a rail link once they exited the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal. VIA has talked about an increased presence in Atlantic Canada, announcing a future Moncton to Campbellton and Moncton to Halifax run, but why is there no mention of restoring the Sydney to Halifax run? Not only would restoring passenger rail service to Sydney help to serve the people along the line, it would also increase tourism, reduce GHG emissions, and most important, help to preserve the portion of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia that runs from St. Peter’s Junction (Point Tupper) to Sydney and save it from abandonment. 

Railways are infrastructure and should be treated as such. When CN was privatized the Federal Government stated it was out of the transportation business. However, federal funds are still spent on highways, ports and air. Rail is the only mode of transportation that seems to be left out from significant up to improve profits for shareholders. In June of 1993, in a letter from Paul Tellier, President and CEO of the then crown corporation, CN Railway, assured Premier Savage that, “should Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia cease operations, Canadian National Railways agrees to ensure continuation of rail service on the Truro-Sydney provincial short line.” Who is left to honor CN and government-privatizing commitments in the best interest of the community? 

Greg MacLeod, Co-chair for Scotia Rail Development Society, asks: “What is our public policy on promoting transport of freight by railway rather than highway from both an economic and environment point of view? Do we have a policy on foreign ownership of public infrastructure like railways?” He adds, “This is a big problem.”

It has to stop. Railway companies should not be permitted to abandon services to communities that will suffer even more from the loss of a vital service. We cannot afford to pass on the opportunity to save the rail in Cape Breton – the savings in restorative highway infrastructure alone will pay to restore the line to safety standards in short order. Jason Morrison with SRDS calls for a “…moratorium on rail line removal. It is time for Canada to step up to the international plate and define the role of railways in Canada for Canadians, not for railway companies. It is time for Canada to develop a clear mandate for VIA Rail and provide it with the funds to ensure service to its citizens. It is time for the Government to invest in railway infrastructure (short-line and large) to improve the service they currently offer.” 

This transportation is paramount to ensuring that goods can move on and off Cape Breton Island. Nova Scotia spends over 400 million dollars a year on highways. If even 5% of that number was allocated to improving rail lines, Nova Scotians and Canadians would have two excellent modes of transportation to drive the economy forward with a cost-efficient, reduced carbon footprint. Nova Scotia residents must tackle the increasing transportation emissions in the province with the transportation system 27% of Nova Scotia’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and 37% of the provinces energy demand. In fairness to our provincial government, Nova Scotia has demonstrated strides toward energy conservation and diminished use of fossil fuels with the Newfoundland-Nova Scotia Hydro-Energy Agreement. In this context, however, the removal of the rail would be a huge step backward. Another point in favor of our provincial government is a recent change to the law requiring full rehabilitation of the lands by the owner as part of the abandonment process, reducing the incentive to do so. 

Efforts in the transportation sector are not only a provincial issue, but a global one as well. The United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport has deemed sustainable transport as essential to achieve its goals established by the UN. Nova Scotia’s Sustainable Transport Action Team maintains that sustainable transport can, in addition to reaching goals for climate, health and sustainable cities, include economic growth as well. 

Please show your support by signing our on-line petition to save the rail in Cape Breton by visiting


*Note – 22/08/2016 – this post was edited to reflect the final text of the press release that was released by SRDS on August 20, 2016.

3 thoughts on “Scotia Rail Development Society continues efforts to save Cape Breton rail line

  1. if it can’t be run economically without taxpayers’ dollars shut it down,instead build a double lane highway to sydney

    1. And a double lane highway would be more economically viable? I mean, a railroad isn’t for free, but neither is a highway, even without the secondary costs of traffic, like air pollution, increased numbers of accidents, etc.
      I guess living in the Maritimes is economically nonviable for many, schools are far away, jobs too, and infrastructure is more expensive as well, because it has to be paid for by less people. When the people living there are just as much tax-paying citizens, they should get some service in return for it, and shouldn’t be abandoned by the government.

    2. Sorry. I see that you understood nothing on the fight for protecting environment. Once rails have been lifted, they will never come back.
      It should be seen as investment, not a waste of money. What would you say if you applied your theory on railways on roads.

      If roads cannot be run economically, shut it down.
      Your suggestion is a non – sense.
      Do you realize that railways pay taxes too… but where are those taxes used for ? To improve roads.

      What is population in our part of the world for paying for that road you are promoting ? Actually we have to many roads for the population that is able to pay for them. It is cheaper to run a railway than roads…especially for heavy freights…. and passengers as we have steel running on steel…it saves also fuel.

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