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Region to help tourist railway forced out by LRT

WCR president Ross White in an antique caboose at the organization’s St. Jacobs shop this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]

Displaced by the pending light rail transit scheme, the Waterloo Central Railway will get $150,000 from the regional government to help reorganize the operation of its popular tourist train based in St. Jacobs.

WCR president Ross White in an antique caboose at the organization’s St. Jacobs shop this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
WCR president Ross White at the organization’s St. Jacobs shop this week. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Soon to be ousted from their original spot in Uptown Waterloo, WCR will use the money to establish a new location on Northfield Drive, near the Conestogo Parkway. The organization had requested $488,000, but this week the region offered up $150,000 plus a stretch of original track and two switches.

“We’ve been here seven years. We have become a very widely-know and a very good family tourist attraction; it’s fun it’s educational, it’s interesting it’s old fashioned, it’s historic.” said WCR president Ross White of the operation.

While the funding was significantly less than he’d asked for, White said he was happy with the decision.

“What makes this so good is that they are additionally offering us the track that we currently have at Waterloo station. We will take up that track at some point and the two switches. The switches are worth about $70,000 each, the track is about $175 per foot.”

That amounts to more than $300,000 with the 900 feet of reusable track, of which about 600-700 feet will be used for a new passing track to store the train. Rails will be removed from their location by a railway company and reinstalled on the east side of Northfield Drive where the LRTs turns back south.

The new Waterloo end of the WCR circuit falls just outside of the area to be used by the region’s LRT, which will make use of existing rail tracks, forcing WCR to stop using the rail lines. Other businesses and rail users are also expected to face negative impacts due to the controversial transit plan.

In WCR’s case, the funding will cover just some of the costs needed to keep the historic steam engines running.

“The next biggest hurdle that we have to figure out how to finance is a parking lot. By being at the City of Waterloo’s facility on Father David Bauer [Drive], we have the station, we have the parking lot we have the passing track,” White said of the current Waterloo location.

The Canadian Pacific Railway has donated two 84-foot historic baggage cars to the WCR, one of which will house a new station on the rails – the only viable option due to lack of land – complete with steps and handicap ramp for customers who will buy their tickets directly from the train car.

By the time a platform and land for the parking lot are developed, White estimates additional costs at about $200,000.

The arrangement provides benefits to both parties, said regional Coun. Tom Galloway.

“I think that everybody recognized the value of the tourist train. It’s a volunteer-run organization as well, it’s a not-for-profit organization, they raise their own funds and it’s a real tourist asset to the region,” he explained.

Once the LRT service, dubbed ION, is operational, a ticketing partnership will allow riders to use the same ticket for both the LRT and Waterloo Central Railway’s historical trains, he added.

The WCR moved to Waterloo Region from St. Thomas in 2007, and White said it has every intention of staying a part of the local community. The WCR is one of few operations of its kind, offering two historic stops en route: the Village of St. Jacobs and the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. According to a survey last spring, half of the WCR passengers are tourists from outside of the region.

“We like it here, we’re very lucky to have the market and the village. It’s a very nice combination of a tourist attraction that supports us and we try to support the community.”

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