A new study concludes the rail line across much of Cape Breton is facing a lot of challenges.

Last fall, its owner, U.S.-based Genesee and Wyoming, announced its intention to stop service and abandon the line.

The study looked at economic developments in Cape Breton and their potential to provide rail traffic in the next three to five years.

It assessed developments like Donkin Mine, Provincial Energy Ventures, International Iron Benefication, the possibility of intermodal traffic converting to rail and the Sydney container terminal. 

With the exception of the container terminal, it found none are likely to generate enough rail traffic.

The rail line has deteriorated forcing trains to travel slowly. The study says that's a major deterrent to attracting more business.

$31 million upgrade

CN Rail indicated it's not willing to switch truck traffic to rail, considering the current condition of the line.

Upgrading the line between St. Peter's Junction [through Orangedale and Iona] to Sydney will cost $31 million, not including bridge work that might be needed.

When asked if the province would be willing to make that investment, Transportation minister Geoff MacLellan said it's up to the private sector to move a rail project forward.

"As we have said from the beginning there has to be private sector focus here and there has to be a private sector entity or a team of entities that will really push this forward," he said. "We need traffic and then we can start talking about what will happen with the infrastructure."

'A small investment'

At the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, CAO Mike Merritt thinks it is an investment worth making, especially with the potential for a container terminal in Sydney.

"In 2016, we expect to have a study on the feasibility of the Port of Sydney. I fully expect that at that point in time, investing into rail will be relatively a no-brainer, especially the limited amount," he said.

"$30 million dollars is a small investment … the thought of developing the Port of Sydney, we are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars. That's a small investment to be basically able to transport our goods to North Americans."

The study says the permanent loss of the Sydney Subdivision line is a serious concern for those who relied on the railway in the past, those trying to grow the economy and the community at large.

It concludes the investment needed to fix the line, the lack of rail traffic and the limited or unknown potential of current developments creates a challenging set of circumstances for the future of the Sydney line over the next three to five years.