Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan told a large audience at the Civic Centre in Sydney on Thursday that he's putting together a 'working group' to try to save the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway.

Geoff MacLellan

Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan says rail line is 'absolutely necessary' for development of Sydney. (CBC)

The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway intends to abandon freight service between St. Peters Junction and Sydney in the fall because it's losing money.

The business community joined with the mayor and council Thursday to listen to what the minister had to say.

MacLellan pledged to bring railway users, political leaders, federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and even former rail line owner Canadian National Railway to the table.

The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway says it will apply to the utility and review board to stop using that portion of the line once a subsidy deal with the province runs out September 30.

It plans to continue operating the rest of the 395-kilometre line, which runs from Truro to Sydney.

The head of the chamber of commerce said it's a crisis situation that has to be solved.

"We can't encourage existing and future business to operate without rail,” said Paul Carrigan, president of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce.

Vital to Sydney development

MacLellan said the rail line is absolutely necessary for the survival and the development of the Port of Sydney. 

Paul Corrigan

Paul Carrigan, of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, says the rail situation is a crisis that needs to be solved. (CBC)

“So we need a year, or a year and a half, or whatever the time line may be to understand that that is actually the case,” he said.

That argument is bolstered by the CBRM economic development manager John Whalley.

Whalley argued Sydney is a front-runner among only a few east coast North American ports that can handle the new, gigantic container ships.

'If we connect our ports with high speed road and rail there's no other jurisdiction that can do this' - John Whalley, CBRM economic development manager

“If we connect our ports with high speed road and rail there's no other jurisdiction that can do this,” said Whalley.

There's also concern among current users of the railway. Some, like Denis Lanoe, a local plastics manufacturer, have recently put more money into their business.

“We invested $5 million in new equipment two years ago to be able to modernize our business,” said Lanoe, vice-president of operations at Copol International. “Had we at that time not had the rail, this would not have happened.  It would not have been in Cape Breton."

MacLellan said he's already contacted Lisa Raitt and Canadian National Railway and hopes to see positive results soon from his consultations.

With files from the Canadian Press