There isn’t enough business to justify rail line across Cape Breton, study finds

An engineer who helped author a 2023 study into the viability of a rail line across Cape Breton says there aren’t enough businesses on the island that need to ship by train to justify fixing up the crumbling rail bed, bridges and tracks.

Dan MacDonald, of DMDE Engineering, said officials wanted to do a study to demonstrate the need for a functioning rail line without a container terminal project.

To do that, the rail company has said it needs to run at least 10,000 rail cars across Cape Breton Island every year.

At a public meeting in Sydney on Monday night hosted by the Scotia Rail Development Society on Monday evening, MacDonald said the study found existing companies could use just under 3,000 cars and a statistical analysis of trucking in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador found there could be demand for another 3,000 to 6,000 rail cars.

“We’re close,” he said. “We got to 9,300, and I think we’re only one big carrier or one big user of the railway to put that over the top and to develop the economic plan that would make it viable.”

MacDonald said later in an interview the study officially found a range of 6,000 to 9,000 cars annually was possible.

“We think that once we have the rail here, you build it and they will come, that you’ll get closer to the [9,300],” he said.

“I guess the 93 is a bit optimistic, but it’s in the range and that’s the number we’ve been quoting.”

‘We have to tell people what a great port we have’

MacDonald also said officials believe if they can find one more large rail user, they would have the numbers to convince the railway company that a line in Cape Breton would be viable.

He said they are looking out west to Saskatchewan to find a large shipper willing to use a new East Coast port.

“The Cape Breton Partnership has put in an application to Nova Scotia’s Department of Economics to get funding to try and develop this business case, to see about potash, to see about canola, to see about grain,” he said.

“This is just ideas we have here, and we need to market our port and our railway here. We have to tell people what a great port we have.”

The Cape Breton Partnership is an economic development agency based in Sydney,

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