Steam Train Plan Chugs Along by Anastasia Philopoulos, Low Down to Hull and Back News, December 3-9, 2014

[Here is a report on the November 25 public meeting in Wakefield to discuss the return of the steam train.]

 

Tourists and Wakefielders alike could see a smaller and locally operated version of the steam train up and running by 2016.

“We’re the only project so far that has an operator interested in their proposal,” said Marc Fournier to the sound of applause.

One of three projects currently being considered by la Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais, the Wakefield Steam Train Group’s (WSTG) country style train proposal was presented to the community on Nov. 25 at the Wakefield Community Centre.

With the deadline for its business proposal fast approaching, WSTG President Fournier wanted local folks, about 35 of whom were gathered, to get a sense of the project.

“It’s such a simple operation and that’s really one of our strongest points,” Fournier told the crowd.

After a quick recap of the steam train’s history and the subsequent rail damage that brought the symbolic steam engine to a halt, Fournier detailed the current project’s plans with the help of his assembled panel which included Neil Faulkner, James Sisstie and Jess Harris.

At the moment, the WSTG has Zins Beauchesne and Associates, a Montreal firm that specializes in tourist excursions, crunching numbers and doing research for a solid business proposal to be submitted by the Dec. 24 deadline.

The new trip would last an hour and a half in total, starting in Wakefield with a stop at Morrison’s Quarry for 30 minutes and returning to the village.  Running from early spring until late fall, the new train would accommodate about 150 people per ride, a much smaller volume than in the past.

With multiple trips planned per day, Fournier explained to the crowd that the reduced number of tourists could be easier for the village to accommodate, especially when it came to infrastructure like parking and public toilets.

Entertainment

Dinner would no longer be an option on the train and food would only be served if the locomotive was chartered for special events.  Fournier added that Theatre Wakefield and the Fairbairn House were collaborating to come up with historic presentations and on-board entertainment.  And while Fourier is not ready to reveal any names yet, a local businessperson has submitted a letter of intent to operate the train if it came to Wakefield.

At this point, the cost of the train is estimated at around $4 million, with tickets ranging between $17 to $22 depending on whether it’s a student, senior or adult fare.

Questions from the 35 guests in attendance ranged from the project’s viability to parking, and whether Chelsea would be involved.

“Possibly in the long term, there could be options to go up to Chelsea but right now we don’t want to lose out on getting the train back,” Fournier said. That’s why we’re keeping the project very small and to the point.

Parking

James Sisstie, who owns Expeditions Radisson, explained parking was still something being discussed but that a number of options were being considered including using municipal land.  “Also, there’s been a number of private land owners who have express interest in parking.” he added.

One woman did ask whether the proposed project was a good investment for taxpayers.  Fournier answered that the business proposal being put together by the Montreal firm would address economic stimulus but it was owner of the Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa, Robert Milling, whose comments made the clear link from the train to its economic benefits.

“I wouldn’t have done the Mill if it weren’t for the steam train.  It was the only thing in town that was working back then,” Milling told the crowd, adding his business created 90 jobs in the village. “Just on that one investment, the economic activity has been north of $50 million from 2000 until now. 

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