Access to rail key to port’s success, says official
Access to rail is essential to port development but there are many unknowns about how much it will actually cost to make the necessary upgrades to Cape Breton’s rail line to support a potential container development, a local port official says.
Marlene Usher, CEO of the Port of Sydney Development Corp., told Ports Day 2017 that the $30 million in upgrades that have been identified as being required for the line, which is currently not operating, is probably understating the cost and the port is seeking funding partners to support a comprehensive study to better determine what is required.
“We believe it is likely more than that to achieve the level of class that is required, including double-stacking,” she said.
“It is important to understand the scope of the work that is required to update the line ... This information is essential for investors.”
The annual ports conference was held in Sydney Thursday at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion.
Rail line owner Genesee & Wyoming have ceased operating the Cape Breton section of the short line, saying the business case is not there to currently support it. They have not yet applied to abandon the line, which could see the tracks removed. The company has indicated it is willing to work with port officials.
The issue of the updated navigational aids also needs to be addressed, Usher said.
The balance of the $38-million fund to dredge the harbour was $2.3 million and it was to be used for improving navigational aids, fish habitat reports and monitoring, and for maintenance and monitoring of the confined disposal facility. Some of that money has been used to support the port and its business ventures
“Without this update, vessels cannot take advantage of the dredged depth,” Usher said, adding the port with continue to advocate for the project with the Coast Guard.
Usher said they are working to finish the financial and technical feasibility studies on the port development proposal.
“We have grown but in my humble opinion, I don’t think we
are anywhere near our potential,” Usher said.
The port is also still working to acquire the harbour bottom, which would provide a new revenue source for it. She called it a complex file, with the collection of harbour dues and also potential environmental liabilities, which all have to be addressed prior to a final agreement.
Michael Tretheway, chief economist and strategy officer with Inter-VISTAS, which prepared the potential economic impact study of the proposed
terminal, said they weren’t hired to say whether the plans are realistic or not. He did say he thinks the port is well situated.
The proposed Novaporte container terminal at Sydney harbour would have four berths, direct rail service and would be constructed in two stages. Construction of phase one is expected to take 2.5 years.
“I can’t underscore enough the importance of the rail link for intermodal containers,” Tretheway said.
“That rail car is essential for how things get to market.”
Construction of the container terminal could create 12,310 person years of employment, he said, with the logistics park creating 26,170 person years of employment.
“This is a significant jobs impact,” Tretheway said, adding it would mean $2 billion in wages during construction.
At full built-out, Tretheway said the container terminal could generate 4,310 jobs while the logistics park could create 3,640 jobs.
He said the real impact from such a development is that the location becomes a popular place for others to place distribution centres.
Port development in Sydney has come a long way in the past year but still has a long way to go, Mayor Cecil Clarke said. He added he believes they have brought the right team of players — including operator Ports America — together to make the project a reality.
This file photo shows a view of Sydney harbor from the Westmount side.