A Tale of Two Railways

This is a tale of two railways: neither has trains rolling over it and both are being eyed to serve container terminals that don’t exist.

Nova Scotians pump thousands of dollars — up to $60,000 — a month into the Cape Breton section of Genesee and Wyoming’s (G&W) Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway (CBNS) so the company won’t rip up tracks that trains can’t run over, all in the hope of a container terminal being built in Sydney. We hear that tale regularly.

But there’s another rail tale few have heard. About six years ago, we Nova Scotians sold part of a railway we owned in Antigonish and Guysborough Counties. We were paid for it but, at this point, we don’t know how much. The money was for sections of a rail corridor that hasn’t seen a train in almost 65 years — and that has no tracks.

This article attempts to piece the story together, but the relevant documents aren’t entirely clear. What we know is that the section of rail corridor was sold by the province to Melford International Terminal, which in turn sold it to Melford Railway Company. And the paper trails for both the railway and container terminal companies lead to the same addresses in Halifax and Seattle, Washington.

 

Rail sale

The old rail corridor hadn’t been used since the Canso Causeway opened in 1955. Prior to that, trains were ferried across the Strait of Canso, between Mulgrave on the mainland and Point Tupper on the island.

Ferry Steamer “Scotia” Crossing Strait of Canso, Cape Breton. Post card.

The section of rail corridor from Mulgrave to Linwood Mulgrave was eventually abandoned and the tracks pulled up. Land Registry files show that CN sold the corridor to the Nova Scotia government in 1997.

Fast forward to 2003, when a new use for the old rail corridor emerged as part of a proposed container terminal, to be located in Melford, Guysborough County, at the Strait of Canso. Richie Mann, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister and VP of marketing for Melford International Terminal, has been the driving force behind the project.

First, though, the company needed land for a terminal and logistics park. The Nova Scotia government sold the new company around 250 hectares. The County of Guysborough, under the leadership of then-Warden Lloyd Hines — now Nova Scotia’s minister of transportation — helped by expropriating some land.

It was obvious from the start that a rail connection from Melford to the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway would be critical to move containers — and that some of the old Mulgrave line could serve the purpose. So in 2013, the Nova Scotia government sold roughly half of that abandoned rail corridor to Melford Terminal. (It’s marked in yellow Schedule “D” below.)

Additional crown land which was not part of the old CN line (marked in blue) was also sold to Melford Terminal:

 

Melford Railway

Richie Mann says Melford Terminal bought 109 pieces of land from 68 land owners, including the province, to create a 32 km rail corridor from Linwood Station near Tracadie to Melford.

There is no Melford Railway at this time, just a route. And technically, as noted above, it no longer belongs to Melford Terminal. It was sold to a related company, the Melford Railway Company, which was registered in February 2016, a couple of days before another related company, the Melford Atlantic Gateway Logistics Park Inc, was registered. The Melford Railway Company directors include Melford Terminal people (like Paul Martin and Mike Uberoi) and people (like Mark Knudsen) from from SSA Marine, the Seattle-based terminal operator that has partnered with Melford.

Five months after the Melford Railway Company was registered, the Melford Railway Company Limited Partnership was registered, listing a numbered British Columbia company (B.C. Ltd 1015219) as Limited Partner. That company is located at the same address in Seattle, Washington as Melford Terminal Partner SSA Marine.

According to a 28 May 2013 Order in Council (OIC) the Nova Scotia government sold the rail corridor and land to Melford Terminal for the “appraised market value.”

The date of the sale was noted at the Land Registry as September 2013 but it was not actually registered until December 2014 and there is some key information missing — including the actual price.

 

Questions (and Answers)

A number of questions about the land sale were emailed to Brian Taylor, director of communications at the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry, on September 26.

The answers arrived by email at 12:49 PM today (October 2), so we delayed publication to update the article.

Mulgrave Railway Station, post card, Dara Legere Collection, Nova Scotia's Railway Heritage http://www.novascotiarailwayheritage.com/index.htm

Mulgrave Railway Station, post card, Dara Legere Collection, Nova Scotia’s Railway Heritage

What price did Melford Terminal actually paid for the rail corridor lands?

The price paid by MITI [Melford Terminal International Inc] for the former rail corridor lands purchased in 2013 was $166,485 plus HST.

How does the government explain the gaps in the time line between the OIC, the sale and the sale being registered in the Land Registry?

There were several deeds recorded, with different registration dates and document numbers, that conveyed the portions of the former rail corridor lands. The deeds for the former rail corridor parcels were recorded by MITI, the Province would not have information on why each document was sent for recording on the dates they were sent.

The map provided showed Melford’s total purchase totaled 90 acres, but it didn’t say how much of the rail corridor was involved, so what was the total length of the rail corridor and how much did Melford Terminal buy?

The total length of former rail corridor purchased by MITI in 2013 was approximately 16,294 metres [16.3 km]

And finally, the province bought the land from CN in 1997. Over the years, community groups across Canada have snapped up abandoned rail corridors and converted them to other purposes — rails to trails for biking and hiking or snowmobile and ATV trails. Did any community group, municipality or other organization ever express interest in acquiring this particular old rail corridor? Was it ever offered to any of these entities? And finally, was the sale advertised so that others might have had an opportunity to buy it?

Crown land is typically only sold when it is requested and if the request complies with department requirements. Crown lands are not advertised for sale unless they are declared surplus lands under the Real Property Disposal Policy. Before the sale the department did not receive a formal application from a trail group.

There remain, of course, questions about what’s to become of the other half of the old CN rail corridor

And the future of the new Melford Railway is equally unclear: it doesn’t have any tracks now, and it’s a good bet it won’t have any until enough shipping business interest surfaces to warrant a terminal at Melford.

 

Rick Grantl

 

 

Longtime CTV reporter Rick Grant began his television journalism here on the Island. He is now based in Halifax.