The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia (CBNS) Railway has reached a deal with the Province of Nova Scotia to keep its rail line through Cape Breton in place for at least another year. The province will pay CBNS up to $60,000 per month to cover valid expenses, including salaries, insurance, security and building maintenance directly attributed to the line between St. Peter’s Junction and Sydney. Repairs or improvements to the line will not be reimbursed under this agreement. In exchange, CBNS will not apply to abandon the line for the next year. It’s not yet clear whether this agreement would be extended on an annual basis.
From the provincial news release: ““This agreement preserves the existing rail line, which is a key component of the proposed container terminal in Sydney,” said Geoff McLellan, Minister of Business. “Government continues to work together with businesses, community and municipal leaders on economic development related to Cape Breton. Strong transportation links are a key component of building a stronger economy.”
From CBNS, in the same release: ““We are pleased to work with the Government of Nova Scotia to allow economic development initiatives like the proposed container terminal unfold,” said Louis Gravel, president of Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway. “We would like nothing more than to one day see a thriving operating railway between Port Hawkesbury and Sydney.” ”
Any action from the province to help maintain this rail line is valuable, and it maintains the possibility that it may once again see trains at some point in the future. Losing the right of way and basic railway infrastructure would all but guarantee that trains would never again run across Cape Breton. However, this agreement will not do anything directly to restore service on the line, nor does it seem to suggest that there is any thought of re-opening the line unless the proposed container terminal in Sydney goes ahead.
Regardless, it is a better outcome for the time being, and provides both a glimmer of hope and an indication that the province has some level of interest in preserving the rail link for the future.
There’s a chance that the fight to save the Newcastle Subdivision could be back on the table sooner than expected. In 2014, the Province of New Brunswick signed an agreement with CN to provide funding to maintain the north (from Irvco, N.B. to Nepisquit Junction, N.B.) and south (between Catamount, N.B. and Nelson Junction) portions of the Newcastle Sub.. This left only the middle section (roughly from Miramichi to Bathurst) uncovered, an issue that would later be solved by an agreement with the federal government.
The original agreement signed between the provincial government and CN indicated that it would ensure continued freight operations on the line for the next 15 years. Unfortunately, one detail was not specified in the press release from CN or other public information at the time: a clause in the agreement would allow for CN to re-evaluate the situation after 5 years, and if traffic on the line had dropped below 2012 levels for two consecutive years, they would be free to terminate the agreement and re-apply to abandon the line.
That clause will be applicable in 2019, meaning that in as little as two years time we could be facing another fight to preserve the route of the Ocean, which may also soon be the route of additional VIA trains if the proposed daily regional services between Campbellton and Moncton get off the ground. Of course it’s not a sure thing that CN will choose to invoke this clause, nor is it certain whether traffic levels have indeed dropped to the point that would make that possible – but the situation does give cause for concern.
TAA will continue to monitor this situation closely, and will plan to work with our partners throughout the region to advocate for solutions to preserve the line and passenger service, should CN seek once again to walk away from the route.
Here are CBC and Radio-Canada reports on the current situation:
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.