Crumbling Cape Breton rail line has not been inspected in six years

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Officials with Nova Scotia's transportation department say the crumbling rail line that runs across Cape Breton has not been inspected since it was discontinued in 2015. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Officials with Nova Scotia's transportation department say the crumbling rail line that runs across Cape Breton has not been inspected since it was discontinued in 2015. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation and Active Transit says it has not ordered any inspections of the discontinued rail line that is crumbling in various places across Cape Breton.

In an email, officials said the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway's Sydney subdivision has not been inspected for the past six years.

They said rail lines that are no longer operational are not expected to remain at an operational standard, but should be inspected to a public safety standard.

However, they also said that while there are operational safety standards, there are no public safety standards defined in the Railways Act or regulations.

They said it "is a general standard."

The department would not make anyone available for an interview and the minister, Lloyd Hines, declined.

Trains stopped running in 2015

The province is paying a subsidy to the owner of the railway that includes more than 100 kilometres of track running between Sydney and St. Peters Junction just outside Port Hawkesbury.

The railway company stopped running trains on that section in 2015 and applied for and received provincial government permission to discontinue the line.

The province was paying up to $60,000 a month to the owner to keep the line from being abandoned, because municipal officials and developers said they would need a rail line if they could attract a container terminal to Sydney harbour.

That subsidy was reduced to $30,000 a month this year.

But the line has been deteriorating since it was discontinued. The rail bed has washed out from underneath the tracks in several locations, leaving rails and ties hanging in mid-air, and trees more than two metres tall are sometimes found growing between the ties.

The rail preservation agreement between the province and the company stipulates that the money is not to be used for repairs or enhancements to the line, unless those are required by law.

It also says the company shall perform periodic inspections and maintenance as required under the Railways Act.

Transportation officials say discontinued lines should be inspected to a public safety standard, but also say there is no written standard.
Transportation officials say discontinued lines should be inspected to a public safety standard, but also say there is no written standard.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

In response to questions from CBC News, the transportation department said inspections are only done on operational tracks.

"Discontinued or abandoned rail lines should be maintained to a public safety standard, which is different from an operational standard," the department said.

When pressed for a list of the differences, the department said operating standards "are very high, ensuring safe operation of trains. This includes the infrastructure including rails, lights, signals and signage, operating procedures, etc.

"A public safety standard is not defined in the Act or [regulations], it is a general standard."

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