Government is amending the Railways Act to protect the rail link and future economic opportunities in Cape Breton and the province.
In October, Genesee and Wyoming (G and W) applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) to discontinue and abandon the rail line between Sydney and St. Peter’s. Abandoning the rail line means pulling up the tracks, a move that would virtually end any hope of re-establishing the rail line in future.
The amendments, which are retroactive to Oct. 1, will allow G and W to have the UARB hear its request to discontinue rail service. However, the company will have to apply to government to abandon the rail.
The railway cannot apply to government until at least six months after the UARB process is complete.
“These amendments mean that G and W, and any short-line operator, would have to follow a more rigorous process before abandoning a rail line,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan. “This will ensure the full implications of pulling up rail lines are well understood before drastic action is taken.”
Since 2003, Nova Scotians have invested $23 million in subsidies to help keep the Cape Breton rail line running.
Mr. MacLellan and Economic and Rural Development Minister Michel Samson formed an advisory committee of Cape Breton community leaders to build a business case to keep the line running.
Government asked G and W to delay its application to abandon the rail for a year to let the committee do its work.
Regulations to guide the new process will be developed in consultation with towns and municipalities where the rail lines are located, the companies who depend on the rail, the railway and others.
The regulations will address safety, access, ownership, and the environment, including plans for remediation if the rails are removed.
“This legislation is not just about the number of rail cars on the line today,” said Mr. MacLellan. “If we let the tracks go, Nova Scotia’s $23-million investment is gone, and some future opportunities go with it.
“It would be irresponsible to let this vital transportation link go without a fight.”
The Minister’s Advisory Committee is expected to provide a preliminary report in December.