Media Information: A Development Plan/ Un plan de développement

The "Vision of the Steam Train"
Some 20 years ago, representatives of the three levels of government and of civil society made significant investments in thought, research and money to develop what would come to be known as the Hull Chelsea Wakefield Steam Train.
What we may call the "vision of the train" did not come out of thin air. It started from the need for economic development in the Outaouais which traditionally depended on the forestry industry. As forest industries were winding down in the 1980s tourism came as a worthwhile replacement. It is the second largest business in the world, is generally clean and green, and has a broad employment base. But because it did not have many family attractions, not many tourists stayed over in the Ottawa region. On the other hand, the Outaouais is a naturally beautiful region if attractions could be developed to bring visitors into the area. And there it was sitting under our noses. We had an operational railway with weekend trains run by the Bytown Railway Society. Even the Queen had taken it!
Studies indicated that if the train could be turned into a regularly scheduled tourist activity, owned by the public but run as an effective private business enterprise, it held the promise of being a major driver of tourism in the Outaouais and more generally in the Federal Capital Region. The "vision of the steam train" is having an attraction that puts the Outaouais on the tourist map and makes efficient use of local infrastructures in a spiraling effect that draws in more tourism and hence more investment, employment and taxes. It was necessary to have this vision of the train's potential to overcome all the hurdles The railway was finally given by CP to the municipalities of Hull (Gatineau), Chelsea and La Pèche in return for charitable receipts, with the aim of being held as a public trust. Investments were made in up-grading the right of way by the federal and provincial governments. As no steam train was left in Canada that could be used, an historic one was found in Sweden. The train started to run in 1992 and was taken over by the Jean Gauthier family in 1994.
The Wakefield tourist steam train has more than fulfilled its promise:
* It attracts more than 55,000 tourists a year bringing expenditures of between $10 and $12 million to the region annually.
* The company which organizes package tours in the region says the train alone is responsible for 20 to 30 percent of its business.
* It is an historical icon of the region. The train's image has become our tourist symbol, bringing alive the natural beauty and an existing infrastructure of the Outaouais. The President of Tourisme Outaouais says its annual campaign is based on the region's principal attractions, including the steam train.
* The HCW's growing business and 15 year accident-free record has allowed its owner to pay off the capital debt and make a steady profit.
* The turning of the train in Wakefield regularly draws visitors.
* Awakened to the region's beauty, visitors are tempted to buy homes here.
* The Wakefield train provides a hundred seasonal jobs for our students and residents and regularly carries a list of another 100 artists who provide entertainment. It formed one of the region's musical ensembles.
* The millions of dollars it brings nourish Gatineau's hotels, restaurants, bars and other tourist enterprises which in turn pay taxes.
* In Chelsea, it keeps open a public access path along the river for summer walking and winter skiing.
* As one of the last, regular steam service in Canada, its familiar whistle and sundown dinners are a unique point of pride for many residents.
* Unexpectedly, the train offers a site for weddings, parties and receptions.
* For many years, it has provided taxes and has used remarkably little public investment.
The Problems
The HCW Steam Train's present owners have put it up for sale, declaring they no longer have confidence in their relationship with the mayors of Gatineau, Chelsea and La Pêche which make up the CCFO (Compagnie de chemin de fer de l’Outaouais, the Railway Company of the Outaouais), the owners of the right of way who lease it to the operator. The immediate bone of contention was two soil washouts, but the problems are institutional.
1. The benefits of the railway are regional, the problems and management are local. CCFO is constrained by the fact that the mandates of the mayors is to their individual, local municipalities whose benefits they seek to increase while minimizing any worries about security (insurance, lawyers, suits).They are under even more narrow pressure from the local concerns of constituents and of their Councillors.
2. The mayors changed the name of the ownership entity from “Tourist Development Council” to “Railway Corporation” thus confusing its name and role and indicating they had the expertise to run a railway.
3. The present ownership corporation, the CCFO, has no representation from the region, other levels of government, tourism promoters, business, train and transportation specialists or supporters of the train.
4. With constant haggling over contracts, there is no unified administrative structure for the railway to bring together the owners and the operator. No one has a mandate to promote the “vision of the railway”. A new owner will insist on a more productive relationship.
5. However, the essence of the problem is that, while the operator must look after regular maintenance of the railway, after all these years the owner has still not accepted responsibility for investing in the infrastructure (studies, embankments, soils, culverts, bridges, etc.).
6. It is not certain that the federal and provincial departments of transport have taken real responsibility for the security of the rail line or that their competence is given due credit.
Potential Solutions: A Suggested Development Plan for the Steam Train
The Wakefield Steam Train will not be saved by short term, band-aid solutions. The current land slide is only a symptom of more fundamental problems.
All the interested parties must cooperate to use the current problems as a signal to seek long-term solutions. The train can be used for even greater economic development in the region.
A Development Plan will be crucial for attracting a new operator for the train. The mayors are to be congratulated for starting a new process to save the train and for inviting some business and tourist professionals to work with them. But it is only a beginning. They must learn how to communicate with the public who presently think the train is dead. Needless to say, the Friends of the Steam Train do not imagine that their suggested solutions are the only ones that will be on the table. These too are a beginning.

1. Everybody who has publicly expressed views has been in agreement that the Wakefield steam train has become a great economic benefit for the whole Outaouais region (and in fact for the National Capital Region). Therefore, the costs, benefits and responsibilities for the train need to be regional in scope.

2. Law 244 (1993, chapter 102) concerning the CCFO needs to be urgently revised to provide for a Board of Directors representative of the region. This Board could either have a small executive and a larger advisory board or be a larger, more representative unit. It is suggested that the regional MNAs have one representative as would the Federal government and the Mayors of the three municipalities. The business community would have representatives from the Gatineau and Wakefield Chambers of Commerce and a representative of the tourism industry. There would be a railway and a transportation expert and one representative of supporters of the train. This would be a total of nine. Each group – the MNAs, Federal representatives and Mayors, business and tourism, transportation and supporters – would be responsible for nominating their representative. While amendments to the Law are being finalized, the Mayors should expand their committee to include the representatives mentioned above.

3. When not in negotiations, the operators of the train should be invited as non-voting advisors to the Board – as would be other economic agents.

4. The President, to be elected by the Board, should be a person not only to act as chair but also to be a spokesperson for the “Vision of the Train”. It might be a business or tourism representative or someone from the Conférence des Élus or perhaps from the train supporters.

5. Thought should be given to amending the Law 244 to include as owners those who invest heavily in the rail line. Also, the name of the corporation should be changed to stop confusion with the name of the steam train.

6. While the future management of the corporation responsible for the rail line is being made more representative and effective, a new Development Plan should be devised. Its components should include necessary repairs to the road bed, bridges, and culverts. Partners should be sought for building a new station next to the Casino with the opportunity for a smaller, secondary station in Chelsea. Improvements are needed in Wakefield. Including covered platforms for rainy days. The challenge represented by the diusruption of the Rapibus project on the

7. line with its investment in new track and the severing of the current turntable from the line rendering the actual “dépôt-atelier-gare” useless should be seized upon. The idea of extending the rail service to Montebello and of the purchase of additional rolling stock should be given new consideration.

8. It is important to keep in mind that these rail lines can eventually be used for a light rail commuter service to Wakefield and to join with the O-Train in Ottawa.

9. While the new investments for the elements of this Plan need not be enormous, and future partners are likely to be found, in the short term the provincial and federal governments must come up with regional funding which is clearly beyond the means of the three municipalities.

10. Any new contract with an operator must make clear that the rail bed is the responsibility of the owning corporation. The operator could either pay a kilometrage fee to the owners for use of the rail line (as in other countries) or be responsible for maintaining the rail line with a reduction in taxes to encourage such investment.

11. Negotiations must be undertaken with the provincial and federal departments of transport, who are the experts in these matters, to ensure that they are totally responsible for security inspections of the rail line and equipment.

12. While proper management, a visionary Plan and adequate funding are being prepared, the Board of a new Corporation can seek a new operator.

13. In the short and long run, only a Board of Directors that is imbued with the "Vision of the train" will see a development plan through to completion.
Informations : 819 - 827-1025 (J.T.) ; 819-827- 8552 (H.G)

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