Let's Think Big - John Trent in Low Down to Hull and Back News, 17/09/2014

Let’s think big

September 17th, 2014


By John E. Trent


The three proposed projects for getting the steam train back on the tracks (Gatineau urban train, Montebello run, Wakefield circuit) are small – very small. They have nothing to do with the Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield steam train that built our region’s international tourist reputation.

The problem is that such proposals stop us from thinking big. The steam train has proven itself as a regional icon and tourist attraction. Everyone in the region agrees the best train run is from Gatineau to Wakefield.


Our objective should be to use the steam train as a lever to make of the Outaouais a world centre for historic trains. We need a new station and adequate parking on Montcalm Street. And why not a new hotel there, too? At the same time, we have to help the people of Papineau buy a train that is interesting but a little more modern and sturdy to make the run from Hull to Montebello. Why not make Chelsea village the home of the train and its garage and undertake new planning for the train to be more profitable for Wakefield businesses? We should also work with Ottawa to reopen the Prince of Wales Bridge to train traffic.


With these basic ideas in mind, we must then negotiate with the federal government to move the Museum of Science and Technology, with its outstanding train collection, to Hull. Eventually, we will also have to think about using our magnificent rail lines for commuter traffic between Buckingham, Wakefield, and Ottawa. There are hundreds of model train builders in our region. We should think of the creation of a model train centre. And we could become the home of a North American association of track motor cars.

We must build one step at a time. People should not throw out the whole idea just because they don’t like one aspect. What is important is to have a strategic, long term objective and a step-by-step plan of attack. To do this, the CRÉO (Conférence Régionale des Elus de l’Outaouais) should provide the CCFO (La compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Ouaouais) with a professional managing director and a team of voluntary entrepreneur planners.


How much will this cost? We do not know. That’s why we need a team of entrepreneur planners. But two things are certain. It will cost much less that one thinks. Once the train is back in operation, its profits can go towards its own rebuilding. Moreover, as a development project, the experience of the last 15 years with the Hull Chelsea Wakefield steam train shows us that it will bring us much more than we think in the way of jobs and sales to the region’s cash registers.


John Trent is a Senior Fellow with the Centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa.

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