All Aboard! - Nikki Marshall, Low Down to Hull and Back News, 10/12/2014

Doornails. Dodos. The steam train.

Mother nature’s landslide and a conveniently fabricated $50 million track repair pricetag sure did a good job of killing any hopes of a steam train return in the minds of many a Hills dweller.

But then, out of the ashes rises an upstart crew of unquenchable train believers, who may have put together a workable, nay, perhaps even successful, proposal.

Could a country style train, running from Wakefield to the nearby quarry and back, for a quick, scenic, 10 km trip, be even better than its original three-hour tour from Hull and back? It may just be crazy enough to work. The concept’s got a lot going for it.

1. Short and sweet is better. Though the original river-hugging route was gorgeous, even the last owner once told this paper many passengers felt the route was too long. Shorter, more frequent trips would better suit Wakefield village which always had a hard time accommodating large crowds crammed in a short time crunch.

2. Wakefield as the destination. Having visitors park and board from Wakefield is bound to bring more business to the village merchants; solving another complaint that the previous version left visitors limited time to enjoy the village. After the shorter Wakefield trip, families can extend the visit and rent a kayak, visit Eco Odessey, go horseback riding or explore myriad attractions the region has to offer.

3. Shorter route means fewer headaches. Should the WTSG project launch it would inherit the lease on the tracks and the cumbersome CCFO would dissolve. The tracks, spreading three municipalities, and its lease agreement was a huge headache that made the business of running a tourist train almost impossible at times. In this version the tracks would be locally owned and leased out by one municipality – the one that gets the direct benefit out of the train. Chelsea (and Gatineau), happily gets to ditch its unwanted responsibilities to any train and instead can get on with converting the tracks to multi-use trails.

4. Locally owned… and operated. Of the three projects (the others being a Gatineau urban train and a seven –ugh! – hour Montebello trip) being pitched, WTSG is the only one with a prospective operator’s written interest. Though WTSG’s president, Marc Fournier, can’t let us print his name, we will confirm here that he has at least three local, successful, significant recreation businesses already and could make a real go of the train.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Village parking and responsibility for track repairs are just two that can make or break the project, but the WTSG is doing the right thing hiring an outside firm to do a professional business plan and work out such wrinkles up front, not after.

But Wakefield, and surroundings, should be applauding Marc Fournier and his visionary group for fighting for a local train. Without a doubt the village has been hurting economically since the demise of what has long been a hugely impactful icon for the village, and perhaps its biggest tourist draw. And what a gorgeous, historic, romantic icon it is – bring back the chugging, steaming, tooting 909. Long live the train!

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