Local group continues fight to keep Cape Breton railway.
Focus groups concentrating on the interests of specific communities in the future of Cape Breton’s rail line are being set up as part of the effort to engage the public and retain the service.
The idea for the groups came from Rev. Greg MacLeod at a meeting this week of the Scotia Rail Development Society, and they would focus on four areas — central Cape Breton, the northside, Glace Bay and Sydney.
“My point is the railway is more significant than most people think,” MacLeod said. “There’s special interests in different communities.”
David Rae, who chairs the society, said “the unifying factor is the rail … but there are different areas of interest and expertise.”
On the northside, the particular concern is around Marine Atlantic traffic. MacLeod said if the trend of diverting freight to Halifax to transport to Newfoundland continues, avoiding North Sydney altogether, the ferry service could be reduced to solely passenger traffic.
“That’s a danger,” MacLeod said.
In Glace Bay, the interest is around the reopening of the Donkin mine and how the coal it would produce would be moved.
“If they move the coal by truck through Glace Bay … it will wear down the roads, congestion, so it makes more sense to ship the coal by rail,” MacLeod said.
In the Sydney area, the concern is that the loss of rail service will kill the dream of port development.
“There’s a real awareness now that the future of the rail line is inextricably linked to the future development of the port at Sydney, and whatever role that the Donkin mine traffic and the ( Marine Atlantic) ferry traffic, these together would form the basis of very good traffic flows to a modernized rail line,” Rae said.
More than 25 people — including local representatives of businesses, community groups and people with transport and industry backgrounds — attended a meeting of the Scotia Rail Development Society this week, in advance of a meeting today of the minister’s rail advisory committee at Port Hawkes- bury. Rae is not a member of that group, but he has been invited to give a presentation on the work of the society.
“People are really concerned because they see the importance of the rail line in terms of the economic development, the economic future of Sydney and Cape Breton,” Rae said. “They recognize that we’re at a very important time, and unless the right decisions are made the rail line could still be lost.”
The minister’s committee is expected to receive reports outlining what happened to lost rail line traffic, potential sources of new traffic and the investment that will be needed to bring the line back to safe operating condition.
The reports are likely to in- clude information that the province could use to determine whether to grant an application for abandonment by the current line owner, Genesee Wyoming, which withdrew rail service on the line in December.
“We’ll be asking for them to be released for public access as soon as possible,” Rae said. “I think the committee will want to look at them, and obviously the minister and his staff will want to look at them carefully.”
Rae added that it’s his understanding the intention was to release them by the end of the summer. Once that happens, the society intends to hold a public meeting.
A file photo of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia’s rail operations off Ferry Street in north end Sydney. The Scotia Rail Development Society is setting up focus groups concentrating on the interests of specific communities in the future of Cape Breton’s rail line.