Nova Scotia

Cape Breton rail line's best hope is Sydney port: consultant

A consultant working for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to establish a container terminal in Sydney says a working port is the best hope of saving the Cape Breton rail line.

Barry Sheehy says everyone has a vested interest in keeping trains running

Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway hasn't shipped freight on the Cape Breton portion of its rail line in almost a year. (Yvonne Leblanc-Smith/CBC)

A consultant working for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to establish a container terminal in Sydney says a working port is the best hope of saving the Cape Breton rail line.

Barry Sheehy of Harbor-Port Development Partners suggests a memorandum of understanding signed with Genesee and Wyoming, parent company of Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, has bought some time.

"I think Genesee and Wyoming will be patient with us," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning Cape Breton.

"It's not in their best interest to thwart our project when it stands to generate considerable rail traffic, which is the business they're in. So I think we'll get the patience that we need."

Barry Sheehy is a consultant with Harbor-Port Development Partners. (HPDP)

The railway company hasn't shipped freight on the Cape Breton portion of its Nova Scotia line in almost a year, and has also received approval to abandon it from the Utility and Review Board.

Sheehy said the MOU puts that prospect off for a year, or even two.

"I think they'll make terrific partners down the road," he said. "They're certainly interested. They want to see us succeed and they want to be able to carry the associated traffic if we do succeed. "

The MOU between Harbor-Port and the rail company says Genesee and Wyoming will "work co-operatively with HDPD ... including the promotion of the container terminal and the re-commencement of rail service from the terminal lands of the future."

But while nailing down the transport element of the port development plan is important, Sheeny says a lot of other things need to fall into place. That includes negotiations globally to bring together a consortium.

"It involves shippers, port operators, finance, marine services," he said. "It involves high-end marine technology. So, we're talking with all these people."

Infrastructure investment

Sheehy said the railway company's participation in the port project is more than just lip service.

He said the line will require as much as $30 million worth of upgrades and investment, which he called an issue for not only the railway, but also provincial and federal governments.

Such an investment, he said, will create jobs and bring money to the Sydney area.

"Investments in railways can be measured in a century in terms of their economic payoffs, so this good infrastructure spending," he said.

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