Amherst pizza shop owner to breathe new life into 111-year-old train station

Via Rail has agreed to hand over the federally designated heritage property to the town, which has signed a five-year lease-to-own agreement with the owner of Bambino's Pizzeria.

Via Rail station in town has been closed to passengers since 2012

The Via Rail train station in Amherst, N.S., has been closed since 2012. (Town of Amherst)

A business owner in Amherst, N.S., is buying the town's 111-year-old railway station, a deal that will lead to the reopening of the station to train passengers.

Via Rail has agreed to hand over the federally designated heritage property to the town, which has signed a five-year lease-to-own agreement with Jeff Bembridge, the owner of Bambino's Pizzeria, a pub and coffee shop.

Bembridge is happy to finally get his hands on the historic building.

"I've been after it for almost four years now," he said in a telephone interview from Amherst.

"It's a beautiful building and I think it has lots of character and it's a shame to see it go to waste. It's just absolutely wonderful."

According to the town's communications officer, Tom McCoag, Amherst's only capital commitment is to replace the building's old furnace. That's expected to set the town back about $7,000.

In return, Bembridge has agreed to pay the town five yearly installments of roughly $13,000 a year. Once the $64,980 is paid off, the station will belong to Bembridge, who plans to open an "affordable" restaurant in part of the turn-of-the-century structure. 

Via Rail will also lease some of the space in order to reopen the station as a waiting room for train passengers, who have been locked out of the building since 2012.

The deal to reopen the station has been in the works for years.

In a news release put out by Amherst, Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, president and CEO of Via Rail, praised the deal.

"Via Rail is pleased that the Amherst heritage station facilities will better serve the community, as this will give new life and vocation to one of Canada's most beautiful railway landmarks."

On its website, Parks Canada calls the Amherst station one of the largest in Nova Scotia.

"The large size and impressive design of the Via Rail/Canadian National Railways Station at Amherst reflects the significance of Amherst to the ICR [Intercolonial Railway Company] and its expectations for future growth."

Bembridge said he knows he'll need to spend some money to get the interior back into usable shape.

"Going to need a lot of work," he said. "Yeah, lots of work. But that's OK."