On Heritage LRTs

Another column I wrote for The Kitchener Post on possibly operating heritage equipment on Waterloo Region’s new LRT:

How about exploring transit heritage with the new LRT

OPINION Mar 27, 2017 by James Bow Kitchener Post

Just because something is designated as heritage doesn’t mean that it can’t make a serious contribution to our community beyond reminding us of our history.

This community values our links to our architectural past, but too often we marry the concept of heritage with additional costs and bureaucratic regulations to maintain the look and feel of the place.

Tech companies like Google and CommuniTech know the value of the heritage properties they occupy, however, and have added the maintenance of those properties to their investment in this community.

This also applies to our transportation infrastructure. As I watched the tracks of the ION LRT coming together, I thought that it was a shame that we didn’t take the opportunity to operate heritage vehicles alongside the modern LRT equipment.

San Diego is a good example of what I am talking about. This city, alongside Calgary, arguably launched North America’s LRT renaissance. Starting in 1981, San Diego built three LRT lines from its downtown core into its outer suburbs.

Today, the three LRT lines, coloured on the maps as blue, green and red, meet and form a loop running through San Diego’s downtown.

Recently, San Diego purchased two old-style Presidents Conference Committee streetcars — the 1950s-style trolleys that used to ply the streets of Toronto as well as many other North American cities.

They refurbished these vehicles, converted them to operate beneath the LRT’s pantograph wire, and set them to work running along the downtown loop formed by the three LRT lines. This service, maintained and operated by volunteers, was given its own LRT designation: The Silver line.

I would love to see something similar tried here. We could purchase and refurbish a few heritage cars and operate them from the track loop in downtown Kitchener to the track loop in uptown Waterloo. Or, if we didn’t want to add the switches to make these loops possible, buy and convert double-ended heritage equipment.

The service would add to the frequency of the LRT along the core of its route, and be a significant tourist attraction, drawing people to uptown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener.

I realize this may be unlikely to happen; there are costs even if the benefits are considerable.

But we can acknowledge the value of another heritage operation within the region, and help it become a more important piece of the transportation picture.

The Waterloo Central Railway currently operates excursion trains with vintage passenger equipment on market days from St. Jacobs’ Market to Elmira with an intermediate stop within the village of St. Jacobs itself.

In addition to the trains, the volunteer-run organization maintains a railway museum in St. Jacobs.

This train used to operate from Waterloo station in Waterloo Park, but was pushed out of the City of Waterloo due to construction of the LRT.

I hope that, when the LRT is complete, the region can help the Waterloo Central Railway come back south to a new station near Northfield Drive.

There are people who live in Elmira and who drive to work at our universities, or in uptown Waterloo or downtown Kitchener. If the Waterloo Central Railway were to operate a train from Elmira to Northfield LRT station and back during these rush hours, these individuals may find it a reasonable commute.

If we can make this service happen, we should show it on our maps.

Just because the train is old doesn’t mean that people can’t ride it to school and work.


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