Advertisement

Nova Scotia government ends decades-long subsidy for disused Cape Breton rail line

The Nova Scotia government has ended a decades-long subsidy for the rail line in Cape Breton, N.S., now that CN Rail has bought a stake in Genesee & Wyoming, the company that owns the tracks. (CBC - image credit)
The Nova Scotia government has ended a decades-long subsidy for the rail line in Cape Breton, N.S., now that CN Rail has bought a stake in Genesee & Wyoming, the company that owns the tracks. (CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government has cancelled a longstanding subsidy costing millions of dollars that was intended to keep the disused rail line that runs across Cape Breton Island intact.

In an email this week, spokesperson Marla MacInnis said the province did not renew the rail subsidy because CN Rail recently bought a stake in the line and it would be up to the owners to determine if there is a business case for maintaining the line.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall said the end of the subsidy was news to her and raises questions.

"What does that mean?" she said. "So if the subsidy has stopped, to me it could be two things: that there is no interest in maintaining an important and crucial line of transportation in Cape Breton or, on the other hand, it could mean that there's a deal with the new owners that there's going to be investment."

McDougall said she is concerned about the loss of the subsidy and what it could mean for economic development in the future.

"Rail is such an integral part to growing our island, to growing the economy," she said.

"Even if it was symbolic at times, that subsidy meant that there was still hope and investment in what was to be our future growth."

No comment from province, company

Neither CN nor the provincial government would comment.

Trains have not run across Cape Breton since 2015 when Genesee & Wyoming, the sole owner at the time, decided to discontinue the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway line from Point Tupper to Sydney, saying there was not enough business to justify the railcars.

The company had been ready to abandon that part of the line as well, a process that would have allowed the company to rip up the tracks, recycle the steel rails and sell off the land.

However, the provincial government struck a deal that paid the company to keep the line in place while CBRM officials sought to develop a container terminal in Sydney Harbour that would have needed railway access to be viable.

That container terminal project is still just an idea. Novaporte, the company that has an exclusive right to develop land in Sydney Harbour for a container terminal, said it is not abandoning that project altogether, but is now focusing its efforts on the offshore wind industry.

Nova Scotia has spent more than $18 million over the last 20 years to subsidize the rail line across Cape Breton.

Despite more than $18 million in provincial subsidies over the past 20 years, owners of the Cape Breton rail line have allowed the tracks to become overgrown and the rail bed to crumble.
Despite more than $18 million in provincial subsidies over the past 20 years, owners of the Cape Breton rail line have allowed the tracks to become overgrown and the rail bed to crumble.

The owners of the Cape Breton rail line have allowed the tracks to become overgrown and the rail bed to crumble. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

When the line was discontinued in 2015, the province provided the rail line up to $60,000 a month for six years, totalling about $4 million.

After that, the subsidy was renewed at $30,000 a month for three more years, until this spring, totalling another $1 million.

That's in addition to at least $13.5 million more in subsidies that were paid prior to 2011, while the line was operational.

Despite all that money, the line has been allowed to crumble and become overgrown with trees and shrubs.

MORE TOP STORIES