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WCR trains sidetracked for summer

Volunteers have been busy at the Waterloo Central Railway’s workshop in St. Jacobs, but trains won’t be running this summer. [Damon Maclean]

Cleared to reopen under provincial guidelines, the Waterloo Central Railway has opted to cancel its train service for the summer, citing safety concerns related to the novel coronavirus.

There’s a difference between being able to legally reopen and doing so safely, said the non-profit group’s general manager, Peter McGough.

In the best interest of staff, passengers and volunteers, the organization haa decided not to offer regular passenger services between July and August, he added.

“We probably could have done it,” he said of resuming service, noting concerns about a second wave of the virus. “If we don’t do this now, we’re going to pay for it.”

WCR looked into the use of ultraviolet-light devices similar to those in use by transit systems to disinfect their trains, but the cost was too high for such a small organization, said McGough

The organization will be evaluating the COVID-19 situation in deciding when to resume services. At that time, there will be new safety measures in place. That list includes going beyond the required 50 per cent decrease in the number of passengers, instituting physical-distancing measures, requiring advance booking of seats and not taking cash payments, among other precautions.

Although the choice was difficult to make, McGough says there has been praise throughout the community for “doing the right thing.”

The decision means WCR will be foregoing a significant amount of revenue during the busy summer months, he added. All of that money would typically go back into the organization, which is a not-for-profit.

At the St. Jacobs rail yard, there are 52 volunteers among both the train crew and the workshop. Right now, however, there are limitations on the number of people who can be in the facility at any one time, in keeping with precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

With the loss of income, on-site projects for the volunteers have shifted directions. Initially, two new shelters were to be installed, but that project has been put on hold. Eventually, one shelter will be placed at the Howard Avenue stop in Elmira, while the other will replace another on the Northfield Drive, Waterloo end.

While the trains aren’t running, WCR is looking at alternatives such an online virtual ride/tour or a viewing parade that adheres to social distancing.

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