A popular train service that shuttles tourists to St. Jacobs got a boost this week in the form of almost $500,000 from the federal government. The money will be used to complete a new workshop and visitor station on Isabella Street in the village.
The Waterloo Central Railway (WCR) runs the service between Waterloo and St. Jacobs, making a stop at the farmers’ market. The stop in the village is currently a makeshift affair on a field near St. Jacobs Public School, but the funding will allow for the construction of a sheltered space with a museum and washrooms.
Given the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society’s mandate to restore old locomotives and coaches, most of the 5,700-square-foot building will be given over to a workshop, allowing volunteers to work on the cars year-round.
With a permanent facility, the organization hopes to draw more tourists to the region, said president Ron Dancey, noting ridership has increased annually in each of the three years WCR has been operating. In its first year of operation, the railway carried some 11,000 passengers between the station on Father David Bauer Drive in Waterloo and downtown St. Jacobs. Some 20,000 rode the rails last year.
Ticket bookings show riders come from a wide area, extending to other parts of the province, across the country and overseas, he added.
The tourism impact was lauded by Woolwich Mayor Bill Strauss, who joined Dancey and Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht Tuesday morning for a whistle-stop funding announcement in St. Jacobs.
“These new improved facilities are welcome,” said Strauss. “Our hospitality industry will benefit from these upgrades.”
The money, $483,390 in total, will come from the Community Adjustment Fund for southern Ontario.
“Waterloo Central Railway not only facilitates tourism with its trips between Uptown Waterloo, the farmers’ market, and St. Jacobs, but the railway is also becoming part of this area’s attraction to tourists,” said Albrecht in announcing the grant.
Preliminary work on the site is already underway, paid for with funds raised by the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society. The building’s foundation has already been poured. The grant money should cover the rest of the project, said Dancey.
“It certainly gives us a lift – we’re very excited to get this going,” said Dancey of the grant, adding the facility will be a boon for the railway.
“We’re hoping it will attract more ridership … having a building that provides shelter, washrooms and a museum. It will certainly make the experience more enjoyable.”
The plan is to have the building closed in by winter, with the front portion completed by March. With the workshop finished, members of the society can begin restoration of some of the rolling stock, starting with a steam locomotive known as Old No. 9.
As the site offers only limited parking – mostly for pick-up and drop-off – the WCR encourages people to park at the Waterloo end or at the farmers’ market. Last year, the railway and township council agreed that people wanting to park in St. Jacobs to board the train should be directed to appropriate spots in the village if the other sites weren’t manageable.
A station is already in place at the Waterloo end. Under the deal that cleared the way for the Wal-Mart-anchored power centre adjacent to the market, the developer of the project is required to provide a new platform and shelter, as well as parking for 50 cars.
The timing of construction at the market site will depend on the outcome of Waterloo Region’s overall plan for the market area, including potential ties to transit routes, said WCR general manager Roy Broadbear.