Tourist train plans steam ahead in Ogema, Sask.
Plans for a tourist train in a small town south of Regina are moving full speed ahead, despite concern that changes to the Canadian Wheat Board could hurt the short-line railway that owns the tracks.
The Ogema Heritage Railway Association plans to hold a grand opening next summer in conjunction with its centennial celebration. On Nov. 4 it will be hosting a kickoff and fundraiser to unveil its partially restored locomotive and passenger car.
"I'm feeling very optimistic" said Wayne Myren, Ogema's mayor and chair of the Railway Association. "It's unbelievable the interest around, not just our community, but around the whole area. There's a great love for trains."
Myren said the tourist train has been a dream for the past decade that has slowly gained momentum. The group found a 1911 train station in Simpson, Sask., and had it moved to Ogema and restored.
It then tracked down a 1945 locomotive in Pennsylvania, a 1922 passenger car in New Hampshire, and a 1952 baggage car in Moose Jaw, Sask., which it will finish restoring this winter.
The board's long-term goal is to add more cars, and eventually, a steam engine for a more authentic heritage experience.
Myren estimates the entire project will cost $300,000. So far, the Railway Association has taken out a $100,000 loan and raised about $80,000 in donations.
"Our goal is to fundraise the entire $300,000," said Myren. "In the scheme of things it's not a lot of money, because we'll do it in stages."
The tourist train would be the only large-scale train tour in Saskatchewan. The train will head out from Ogema on tracks that meander through part of the Big Muddy Badlands. The tracks are owned and operated by Red Coat Road and Rail Ltd, which is a conglomerate of a number of shareholders and communities along the line.
Recently, a director with the short line railway said he had serious concerns about its future if it could not count on producer cars ordered by the Canadian Wheat Board. He also raised questions about the viability of the tourist train if the short-line was forced to shut down.
Myren said the Heritage Railway Association refuses to get dragged into that sort of negativity.
"Nobody knows how the wheat board issue is going to sort itself out in the end," he said.
Myren believes a tourist train would help support Red Coat Road and Rail, as well as bring up to 25 thousand tourists to the area annually.
"What people are looking for that are travelling is an experience," he said.
The board plans to give it to people with sunset trips, wine and cheese events, and packages for businesses and overseas tourists. Myren admits it won't be easy, but he said the town is determined to make it work.
"We've said from the beginning that it's like eating an elephant. You've got to take it one bite at a time"