It will be full steam ahead for Saskatoon area excursion train once COVID restrictions relax
Published Wednesday, May 12, 2021 11:38AM CST Last Updated Wednesday, May 12, 2021 11:15PM CST
SASKATOON -- It will be full steam ahead for the Wheatland Express Excursion Train once Sask. COVID restrictions relax.
Preparations are in full swing to get ready for what is expected to be a busy summer, after last year's season was derailed.
“We weren’t able to operate in 2020 with the restrictions, and so are very eager to get back out there when it’s safe to do so,” Ashlyn Weninger, Exec. Director Wheatland Express told CTV News.
The non-profit train started in 2018 and in that first season they prepared for 8 tours but had to run 25 because of demand.
Since then, it has seen 7500 passengers come on board the train which runs from Cudworth to Wakaw on a short line track once used to haul grain in the communities.
The line was purchased by the municipality and is still used for some grain transport, but now also caters to tourism.
Weninger who has been with the organization since it started says the experience includes interactive shows with actors playing roles of cowboys or robbers.
Two trains which are almost completely renovated for the upcoming season were brought from the Seminole Line in Florida.
They have been retrofitted with air conditioning for hot summer travel and heaters for year-round travel which will also include themed tours around Halloween and Christmas.
They are including a new wheelchair-accessible car which they brought from Alberta and was lowered onto the track by crane in February according to Barry Pellerin.
He is a retired CN Rail train master of 33 years and is now on the Wheatland Express team.
Pellerin said the latest car under renovation is in the process of being gutted to ensure plenty of room for wheelchair access.
The car was formerly used for cargo and has large access doors which will be updated and used to lift wheelchairs onboard.
The new train car acquisition doesn’t end there because Wheatland is awaiting a car from Indiana which will be completely renovated into a new sleeper car.
“Passengers can go for a ride and have dinner in the evening and when we’d bring them back and park, and then they’d have the overnight experience and serve breakfast in the morning,” Weninger said.
There will be seven cars in total included in the excursions which range anywhere from a few hours to an entire overnight stay, depending on the package.
Grants and ticket sales pay for the renovation and purchase of all the cars, but where do they go to find the right ones for the job to ensure they are getting the best value?
“It’s like a catalogue online, and they’re anywhere from $15,000 and $150,000,” according to Pellerin who also says, he feels a sense of responsibility to share Saskatchewan’s rich train history with passengers.
“The whole background of Saskatchewan railway and settlement was the rails. Everybody came in the olden days by rail, they shipped their grain by rail, the town was built around the elevator, it’s basically based on the railways.”
That history will also be enhanced in the coming years as the experience will include more of Saskatchewan's rich Indigenous history.
Weninger said the long-term plan is to create a small-scale, old west town by the tracks at the end of Main Sreet in Wakaw as part of the tour.
For Pellerin, the most rewarding thing for him is hearing stories from passengers.
“You talk to people and they have all kinds of things to say about their history with the train like my dad did this or my uncle was on the railroad.”
The Wheatland Express is taking online bookings and are hoping to be on track to start rides at the end of June, provincial COVID restrictions permitting. https://wheatlandexpresstrain.ca/