Residents Frustrated with Rail Fees
Unrest, frustration and a call for government help were at the core of conversation this past Sunday at the St. Joseph's Parish Hall in Bras d’or. Called together by the Cape Breton Railway Victims Association, members of the public voiced their anger at being left in the dark regarding atrocious fees and unsettled lease agreements plaguing those who live on properties adjacent to the railway.
Meetings have been held over the past number of years regarding the issue; both in public form and in the presence of only association heads and government officials, including Premier Stephen Mcneil. Ken Jardine, who resigned during Sunday's meeting as the Chair of the Railway Victims Association, made clear that he is running out of patience and options, remarking, “I am absolutely heartbroken, I don't know what else to say. You don't need me any more, you need a pit bull.” Jardine has lost faith in local government, citing many broken promises and lack of action on the part of local government officials. Jardine stated that, even after public pleas for change, “Fees are worse now than when the Dexter government was in power.”
Mike Johnson, who is directly affected by the issue, was nominated and is now, by acclamation, Chair of the Association and is ready for a fight. In reference to his new position Johnson stated, “If you want me, I need you.” Soon after, those in attendance suggested bringing the issue to big media, taking the topic to the floor of the provincial legislature and, if need be, using civil disobedience as way of drawing public attention to the lingering problems and unfair charges.
To date, some residents have received bills as large as $18000 from Rail America in connection to permits for running utilities across tracks to personal properties. Growing fees for vehicle crossings and fees for leased land have also been a huge issue. CBRM has paid close to one million dollars in access fees alone since 2007. According to an earlier agreement, leased land was to be sold to leaseholders, yet those looking to buy the land have had their finances tied up in lawyer fees and lump sums placed aside for the land purchases, and have yet to see any land deeds. Deeds are still being held by the rail company. For some the purchase process has been going on for years.
Fees were originally meant to ensure care of the tracks and surrounding areas. However, residents are appalled with the condition of the local railway and lack of care that fees are supposed to be covering. Many worry that the tracks are becoming unsafe and that lack of maintenance to vegetation could be a visibility hazard for crossing traffic. Though the last engine ran down the line in 2015, the track-enabled railway truck has been seen sporadically, and causes threat for areas of poor crossing visibility.
Jardine made clear that members of the government including Premier Stephen Mcneil, Minister of Transportation Geoff Maclellan, and Victoria-the Lakes MLA Pam Eyking were invited to the night's meeting; however, none were in attendance. Former MLA Keith Bain and newly elected Council Member for CBRM District 2 Earlene Macmullin were present.