Unused rail continues to plague Cape Breton residents with tolls | So Good News


It’s been nearly seven years since a train ran from Port Hawkesbury to Sydney along the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, but residents along Highway 223 still pay high tolls to get utilities across the privately owned railroad tracks to their homes.

Some residents living between Little Bras d’Or and Grand Narrows are frustrated with fees paid to railroad owners Genesee and Wyoming, and they want changes.

Before she bought land in Beaver Cove last September, Carole Young heard rumors about how much it might cost to run her home. She knew she had to deal with the railroad owner.

Young paid nearly $30,000 to run electricity to her house.

“Everything we were warned about had happened. But it just seemed like, wow, it’s really that expensive,” Young said.

There were the usual costs for poles and service wire spanning 403 meters – $6,810.20 paid to Bell Aliant – and another $21,134.61 to Nova Scotia Power. Of that, $14,410 was classified as “other” fees in the offering.

Fees are added

A Nova Scotia Power representative could not say how much of that $14,410 went to the rail owners, but the “other” category is divided into three areas: costs to the rail owner, costs associated with mandatory design and survey work under the Canada Transportation Act, and a fee charged by NSP to review designs.

Jacqueline Foster, NSP communications advisor, said there are requirements under the Canada Transportation Act that must be met when a customer requests service that involves running power lines over a railway, and written consent from the railway owner is also required.

Application and road fees are sent through the NSP and paid to the railway owner.

A railway line runs along the eastern shore of the lakes and people say that fees charged by the company to cross the tracks are prohibitive. (Joan Weeks/CBC)

André Houde, vice-president of human resources at Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc., said in a statement that fees assessed by the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway to run power lines, internet and other utilities across the right-of-way are explained on their website.

“For private crossing agreements, fees are assessed on a case-by-case basis and depend on the size of the encroachment and type of easement granted,” Houde said.

According to the website, residents must apply for a utility license to start the process. There is a $1,000 application fee and a $1,750 engineering review fee for processing. If approved, a permit to enter must be secured to enter the railroad property – costing an additional $1,750.

For example, an application for cable transitions costs $4,500. The company also offers expedited processing for an additional $2,500.

Young never imagined that it would cost so much to gain power – both financially and mentally.

“Nobody is listening to anybody. Nobody is taking action. And this is a really sad situation,” Young said.

Provincially regulated

Residents in the area have long fought for the government to make changes to the fees.

In 2017, the Nova Scotia government paid a consultant $15,000 to study the fees charged by the railway’s owner.

That report estimated the cost of installing new power lines over the rail line to be about $16,300, including railroad owner approval and NSP’s engineering review.

The consultant also found that there is no standard toll for private crossings across the seven other Canadian provinces where short-line rails operate, although OmniTrax in Manitoba has similar tolls to Genesee and Wyoming for private crossing applications.

The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway has been a provincially regulated rail line since 1994. It is also government subsidized.

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Economic Development confirmed that the province renewed the Rail Line Preservation Agreement with Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway Limited for an additional year from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023 at $360,000 annually.

Residents who spoke to CBC News still want the fees to be regulated or removed by the government, especially since the trains are no longer running on the tracks.

Too expensive for many

Ed Fedora wants to move to Big Beach to retire, but he’s looking at high fees to run electricity over the tracks to his tiny bungalow on the Bras d’Or Lakes. (Emily Latimer)

Ed Fedora has been a summer resident of Big Beach for 20 years. He is nearing retirement and wants to move there full time. But securing power over the tracks is a problem.

“We need power. The Nova Scotia government is responsible for regulating the railway as well as dealing with these power issues and they failed to do anything,” Fedora said.

Fedora knows of 50 families in the area who are without electricity because they refuse to pay the railway.

He said it inhibits development along Bras d’Or Lake.

“The province hasn’t done anything for 20 years. It didn’t matter if it was liberal, conservative. They took all the money,” Fedora said.

“If this continues with the high cost of getting power and stuff in here, I’m probably going to have to go like a lot of my neighbors have now to total solar,” Fedora said.

Barriers to internet connection

Residents must pay thousands of dollars to run lines over these tracks in Cape Breton. (Emily Latimer)

It’s not just power. Many residents who anticipated the expansion of fiber optic internet to rural Cape Breton in 2021 cannot afford the rail line surcharges to run fiber over the tracks.

“We had so many excited residents. And once again, another hurdle to getting these lines over,” said Cape Breton Regional Municipality District 3 Coun. Cyril MacDonald.

“Most of the people out there are older and just can’t afford several thousand dollars extra to run a line across the property to maybe get better Internet,” he said.

A spokesperson for Bell Canada said there are significant costs associated with bringing fiber over railways, including surveying, construction and obtaining permits.

MacDonald said additional fees for the rail line confuse and frustrate residents.

“It seems like the rail line has this settled number and the money is going somewhere, but they’re certainly not doing maintenance on the rail lines,” he said.

“Where does that money go?” he said, referring to obstacles along the tracks, including deteriorated trestles and trees growing between the ties.

A Transport Canada spokesperson said the Canadian transportation agency has the authority to resolve disputes related to roads, utilities and private crossings, but that oversight only applies to federally regulated railways.

Although there is no formal mechanism in place for disputes on provincially regulated railways in Nova Scotia, landowners are advised to contact Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board if they are unable to reach an agreement with rail line owners.


Source link