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Province confirms it has been given permission to remove railway tracks that have kept roadway closed since its construction in 2013
It appears the wheels are in motion to finally open Sydney’s “road to nowhere”.
In response to an inquiry by the Cape Breton Post, an official with the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal confirmed that the province’s Nova Scotia Lands agency has been given the green light to remove a set of unused railway tracks along the Sydney Port Access Road.
“After filing a notice of railway work with the regulator and receiving no objections from the public or stakeholders, Nova Scotia Lands today (Thursday) that allows them to proceed with work to SPAR Road which will include removing the railway tracks,” read the department statement.
The tracks in question have been at the centre of controversy since the so-called “road to nowhere” was constructed in 2013 as part of the 10-year, $400-million remediation program of the Sydney tar ponds and its associated sites. The paved and curbed roadway even has an adjacent sidewalk running its entire length from the intersection of Victoria Road and Inverness Street to the Lingan Road/Sydney Port Access Road junction at the south edge of Whitney Pier, where it is blocked by a number of concrete barriers just before the tracks.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillor Jim MacLeod, who represents the area where the road both starts and ends, expressed relief that the process of opening the road was finally moving forward.
“That’s great news — it’s been a long time coming, but I’m really happy that we can move forward to get that road open at last,” he said.
Ironically, MacLeod’s reaction came just hours after he told the Post in an earlier interview that he was hopeful a flood mitigation project involving the barricading and lifting of a small rail bridge in the area between Sobeys and Centre 200 would lead railroad owner Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway to finally concede that the line is inactive.
MacLeod said he has long been frustrated that the tracks in question have continuously been deemed as active even though it’s been 23 years since they last felt the weight of a train. He said the “active status” led to regulations regarding railway rights of way and insurance coverage have kept the “road to nowhere” closed.
“But once that bridge is lifted up it effectively kills the line,” said MacLeod, in reference to how a project involving a short bridge on an unused rail line behind the Sydney Shopping Centre relates to the “road to nowhere.”
That area of the Washbrook regularly floods in winter because the bridge has just two feet of clearance and spans a section of the brook that is only 15 feet wide. The project is expected to be completed before Christmas, according to John Phalen, the CBRM’s public works manager, who confirmed that work is already underway just south of Prince Street to fence off the area and lift the bridge by almost a metre as part of the CBRM’s flood mitigation strategy.
“So we’re going to go in and cut the rails and then use hydraulic jacks to do the ‘big lift’ so the bridge is more clear of the brook — the main emphasis for this project is so that we don’t have the same recurring ice problems that we have there every winter,” said Phalen, who added that the bridge-raising flood mitigation project was the result of lengthy negotiations involving the municipality, the province and the railroad owners.
“It’s been a long process but we finally got an okay from the province and the railroad to temporarily lift the bridge, so we’re going to temporarily lift the bridge so that there is more clearance over the brook.”
Phalen said a beneficial side-effect of the project is that it will force people who have used the bridge as a short-cut to take the longer, but safer, route between the Centre 200 back parking lot and the shopping centre.
Meanwhile, calls to G&W’s corporate offices in Connecticut were not returned. In July, the U.S.-based short line railroad holding company, that has interests in 120 rail lines in six countries, agreed to an $8.4-billion buyout by Canada’s Brookfield Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) and the Singapore sovereign-wealth fund GIC. It is still unclear how the transaction will affect the main Cape Breton rail line.
The Nova Scotia government has been issuing monthly payments of $60,000 to the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway to keep the line open. The last working train between Sydney and St. Peter's rumbled down the tracks in 2015.