Wakefield train plan gets thumbs up from man who kept locomotive running

A new plan to bring a local historic train to Wakefield, Que., has the blessings of the man who kept the locomotive going for three decades.

Doug Simpson, 93, worked at Thurso, Que., company that used engine to haul lumber

A diesel-electrive locomotive that once moved cars filled with lumber in Thurso, Que., could be headed to Wakefield, Que., if a local group gets its way. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A new plan to bring train travel back to Wakefield, Que., has the blessings of the man who kept a historic locomotive going for nearly three decades.

Doug Simpson, 93, worked for 29 years as a maintenance supervisor at the pulp and paper plant in Thurso, Que., where locomotive number 10 once was used.

The Bytown Railway Society, which currently owns the train, has offered up the use of the small diesel-electric locomotive and a passenger car to a group that would like to see it operate in west Quebec.

"That'll be the real, real thing. You can't go wrong with that," said Simpson about the durability of the 1946 locomotive on offer.

Lumber was drawn from the vast forests north of the plant, shipped by train and milled in Thurso until the operation was sold in 1964.

Simpson recalled how his employer once sent him to General Electric's manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania for instruction on how to keep equipment like the historic locomotive running.

"They're simpler than a six-cylinder car, and more serviceable. There's no end to it," he said.

Doug Simpson was a maintenance supervisor at the Thurso, Que., pulp and paper plant where locomotive number 10 once operated. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Stopped running in 2011

It's been seven years since the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield tourist steam train stopped running after a storm washed out the tracks.

In 2011, the Outaouais Tourism Board said the train brought in 50,000 to 60,000 tourists into the region each year, generating close to $10 million for the region.

A group that includes Wakefield businessman Marc Fournier has now proposed using the smaller, diesel-electric locomotive on a 4.3-kilometre run between Morrison's Quarry, south of the village, and the end of the line in Wakefield.

"There's a glimmer of hope because the train in question is much smaller," explained Fournier earlier this month.

A major hurdle, however, is whether the weight of the diesel-electric locomotive can be supported by a culvert scheduled to be built under the rails in the village's south end later this summer.

The culvert wasn't designed to carry the load of the original steam train. Fournier's group has been asked to hire an engineer to assess whether the culvert can bear the weight of the lighter locomotive.

Workers in Wakefield, Que., are installing a boardwalk adjacent to the railway tracks that run through the town. (CBC)

Trying to get the municipality on board

Another obstacle to returning a train to Wakefield is a council that could have new priorities.

The new mayor of La Peche, Que., Guillaume Lamoureux, said he wants council to examine the feasibility of rail traffic in Wakefield, given the long history of failed attempts.

Lamoureux told CBC News he's working with municipal staff to formally summarize those efforts in order not to repeat mistakes or "entertain false hopes."

"One of the biggest challenges is to get local buy-in," said Philip Jago, a Bytown Railway Society volunteer working to restore the historic coach by January.

Jago said the Railway Society is offering to donate and maintain the diesel-electric system. He said the cost of moving the locomotive and its car from storage in Ottawa to Wakefield is likely less than $500,000.

As for Fournier, he said he's optimistic that once the culvert analysis comes out in his group's favour, the municipality will "recognize the project is viable and get on board."

Philip Jago, a Bytown Railway Society volunteer working to restore the historic train, says that 'one the biggest challenges is to get local buy-in.'

Connection to Guy Lafleur?

Mythology around the number 10 locomotive sometimes connects it to hockey legend Guy Lafleur, who wore the number on the back of his Montreal Canadiens jersey.

Lafleur is probably Thurso's most celebrated son, and a statue of the five-time Stanley Cup winner stands in the middle of the town. His father Réjean started as a welder at the Thurso wood plant when he was 14, following in his own father's footsteps.

Simpson worked with both men, but is quick to debunk any connection between the locomotive and the famous hockey player.

Thee engine merely took its number sequentially, Simpson said, coming as it did after locomotives eight and nine.

"There is no connection to Guy Lafleur, No, no, no," laughed Simpson. "That's all BS."