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Rail purchase boosts prospects for Melford terminal

New direct link seen as key driver for $350-million project

  • November 8 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

MELFORD — With CN’s acquisition of a stake in the Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway, prospects for the long-delayed Melford container terminal brightened last week, say its operator and senior officials of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG).

“We are pleased to hear the news of the CN transaction,” Melford International Terminal Inc. Vice-President of Marketing Richie Mann told The Journal in a Nov. 4 email regarding the rail deal that promises to provide a direct, working link from Nova Scotia’s northeast Atlantic coast to CN’s transnational service into Montreal and points west.

“CN offers a seamless and efficient rail connection to the heart of North America,” Mann said. “Of significant importance, based on the design work we have completed to date, coupled with the news of this transaction, we are confident that a seamless rail connection can be developed between our terminal (Melford) and major inland markets.”

Indeed, said MODG Warden Vernon Pitts in a separate email, “Our council sees [the acquisition] as a very positive, strategic, business move. Rail service into our municipality would be a significant, positive game changer when it comes to the development of a proposed container terminal, [with] potential to enhance the transportation, shipment and delivery of raw materials, as well as finished products to and from the Strait area.”

CN ended months of speculation last week when it announced its purchase from Genesee & Wyoming Inc, of a key stake that includes 145 miles of active track between Truro and Port Tupper (within a few kilometres of Middle Melford near Mulgrave).

In a Nov. 1 statement, CN Senior Vice-President and Chief Strategy Officer Patrick Lorrie said, “We are proud to ... serve existing customers on this line. This partnership will further reinforce CN’s presence in eastern Canada where we believe there will be a growing role to play in the competitiveness of North American trade, [enabling] our network to reach new opportunities in the longer-term.”

The acquisition is the latest in a chain of developments around Melford International that began in 2007 when it purchased a 315-acre plot of provincially owned, unencumbered industrial land available for development next to ice-free waters deep enough to naturally accommodate the new generation of large container ships and bulk carriers.

The project’s construction timeline has been extended six times since then, but its proponents have remained consistently optimistic about its potential. According to a write-up on the MODG’s website, “As world container traffic is forecast to triple by 2035, shippers and cargo owners continue to seek stable and reliable supply chain routes and are increasingly having goods sent directly to east coast ports via the Suez Canal. Transatlantic and Suez routings will reduce voyage transit times and fuel consumption by using the Melford gateway to Canada and the United States.”

Advocates also point out that Melford International – a private company that would not operate as a federal port authority – can augment Halifax shipping with relative ease as a secondary trade centre.

“Melford may have a role to play with everything that’s happening with turbines, and onshore and offshore wind, and hydrogen at Point Tupper,” MODG Chief Administrative Officer Barry Carroll told The Journal in an interview last week. “But, in the bigger scheme of things, the excellent comparative model out on the west coast is Vancouver as the big port and Prince Rupert just north of it. So, [we’ve] always talked about Melford being the Prince Rupert of the East Coast.”

In this context, Pitts said in his email, “There are a number of existing businesses as well as potential future developments that require and would utilize rail service, and our council, through our ongoing planning process, has been very proactive in acquiring the necessary properties for the installation of a rail corridor [further] into the municipality.”

Earlier this year, the federal government confirmed that it was considering funding the estimated $350-700-million Melford project with $150 million from the National Trade Corridor Fund. Asked about the status of that application, Mann said he had “no comment at this time.”

Meanwhile, he said, “the latest extension received from the provincial government for the start of construction, which is currently in effect, does not expire until October, 2024.”