As Studies Pile Up, CB Rail Line Deteriorates

While on the subject of the Sydney Subdivision of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia (CBNS) Railway, which I seem to be again this week, I’d like to take a moment to consider the state of said line.

As the Spectator reported in the April 26th edition, the Port of Sydney Development Corporation (PSDC) is seeking $460,000 in public funds to commission a study to “confirm the costs of upgrades to the rail line” from Truro to Sydney. The portion of the track from Sydney to St. Peter’s Junction was the subject of three separate studies in 2015 and the issues of property owners along the tracks are being studied by consultant Neil MacNeil even as we speak.

But all the studies in the world can’t take the place of regular maintenance, something that has been in short supply since Genesee & Wyoming, the US-based operator of the CBNS, discontinued service on the line. (And let’s be honest, something that wasn’t particularly plentiful even when G&W was operating the line.)

The photos below, from the Facebook page of the CB Railway Victims Association, speak volumes about the current physical state of the Sydney Subdivision.


Swing span

The photo on the left shows a support under the swing span of the railway bridge at Grand Narrows. The photo is undated but Terry MacNeil, who lives near the rail bridge, told the Spectator by phone it’s an accurate depiction of the bridge’s current condition. MacNeil said the steel-clad drum in the photo was intended to protect the mechanical gears that operate the swing span from the elements and expressed doubt that the span, in its current condition, could even be opened.

Asked about the age of the infrastructure, MacNeil said that while construction on the bridge was completed in 1890, the spans were replaced during the First World War to accommodate the heavy loads coming by rail out of the Sydney Steel Plant. CN, which used to operate the line, did significant work on the bridge in the late 1980s but MacNeil said that was the last time the span saw any real maintenance.

The picture on the right shows a section of the rail line near Point Edward. The photo was taken post-Thanksgiving floods.

Left: Grand Narrows rail bridge. Right: CBNS tracks near Point Edward (Photos via Cape Breton Railway Victims Association) Click to enlarge.

When I spoke to Michael Williams, vice president of corporate communications for G&W in November 2016, he told me the rail operator was in the process of assessing the flood damage:

A full assessment of the storm damage was conducted last week. When the report is complete, the railroad will determine its available options and develop a schedule to proceed with repairs based on safety assessment.

I contacted Williams by email on Tuesday for an update and he replied:

Following the assessment that you reference, any storm-debris-plugged culverts were cleaned to provide proper drainage, and washed-out zones were secured to restrict public access. (Please note that the public should never be on railroad tracks in any case apart from use of designated crossings.) These areas are continuing to be monitored.

No decision has yet been taken to repair the storm damage, and further inspection is scheduled in the coming weeks.



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