Issue: May 2018
Uniacke Newsletter Logo
Next deadline: May 18

Converting the rails to trails

   On Thursday, April 5 approximately 50 people gathered at Uniacke Baptist Church to listen to Mr. Bob Schmidt, President & CEO of The Windsor and Hantsport Railway, give a presentation on his vision for a revitalized railway along the Windsor Junction / Windsor / Hantsport corridor. 

    Uniacke Trails invited elected officials and staff from HRM, East Hants, West Hants, The Town of Windsor, the Province and the federal government. ATV clubs, snowmobile clubs, and trail groups from these areas were also well represented.

   The meeting began with a presentation by Mr. Schmidt discussing the history of the railroad and the decision to cease operations upon the closing of the Fundy Gypsum mine in the Hantsport area. In 2013 the Windsor & Hantsport Railway’s lease of the CN owned line between Windsor Junction and Windsor ended. According to Mr. Schmidt, he and CN then entered into a purchase agreement which has yet to be finalized.

   Mr. Schmidt then went on to share his vision for a revitalized market for gypsum and how the Fundy Gypsum Mine would, in his opinion be operational by 2022. His railway, moving gypsum from the mine to the port in Hantsport would be cheaper than trucking and make the mine financially viable. The rail line from Windsor to Windsor Junction would be used to transport aggregate and manufactured goods from the Windsor and Annapolis Valley areas to interchange with CN in Windsor Junction. Mr. Schmidt foresees this train to operate at slow speed once or twice a week. 

Mr. Schmidt discussed collaborating with groups in the Valley where he allows a trail to be constructed within his right of way when the municipality enters into a leasing arrangement with him. He cited projects with Wolfville, Kings County and Windsor as examples. He typically enters a long term lease at a cost of $4,000/mile/year with a yearly escalation cost. He is also willing to construct the trail at a competitive cost.

   The presentation finished with Mr. Schmidt stating that he is in the railway business and not interested in purchasing the Windsor Junction to Windsor line solely to lease land for the use of trails.

   Following the presentation members of the audience were given an opportunity to comment and / or ask questions.
   Several people brought up the fact that the ROW was not being maintained. Mr. Schmidt’s response was that since 2013 the rail line was the responsibility of CN and that he would maintain it when he acquired ownership and had sufficient contracts to begin operating the rail service.

   A trail developer from the Valley discussed his experience working with Mr. Schmidt. He stressed the importance of “economy of scale” and that the trail groups between Windsor Junction and Windsor should band together and be prepared to be flexible and willing to obtain trail easements from the Departments of Natural Resources and Transportation as well as private land owners such as Wagner, Barrett and others.

   Mr. Schmidt was asked about the timeline of his purchase agreement with CN and he stated that it was now in CN’s hands, but he anticipated that the sale would be finalized sometime this year.

   Many in attendance disputed Mr. Schmidt’s optimism that the world gypsum market is improving, and that Fundy Gypsum will be economically viable. A West Hants Councillor stated that Fundy Gypsum has sold parcels of land to the Municipality of West Hants and this was an indication that the mine was not going to be operational.

   The consensus of those attending the meeting was that HRM, East Hants and West Hants have no interest in entering into a leasing arrangement with Mr. Schmidt. In the meantime, the trail groups and municipalities along the Windsor Junction to Windsor corridor continue to lobby the Province and CN to enter into purchase discussions. We are also lobbying local MP’s requesting that they encourage CN to consider selling the right of way to The Province and/or local Municipalities.

   A copy of Mr. Schmidt’s presentation can be found on the Uniacke Trails Association website at https://www.uniacketrails.ca/news
   We hope to provide a more detailed record of the Question and Answer period of the meeting when we transcribe the audio recording.

Paul Smith, President,
Uniacke Trails Association