Will the train come back to Port Elgin?

Town Council wants to further explore bringing back the iconic North Shore Railway.  This comes after a presentation by the train’s current owner at Monday night’s Council meeting.

Scott Pearson, who owns the original steam train that operated in North Shore Park from 1973-1978 approached the Town in late 2021 to bring the original steam train back to North Shore Park.

In a presentation to Council on Monday (May 9), Pearson explained that he had worked with Doug Schlenker during the restoration of the most recent beach train during the winter of 1991-92. He also worked for Andy Hess by providing mechanical and technical support from 1992 until the summer of 1995. Hess was the recent owner-operator of the train and station that was located on Port Elgin Main Beach. The locomotive’s restoration was completed, by Pearson, in 2001.

Pearson’s vision includes the potential for additional tourism offerings, including a snack bar and some small buildings that highlight the history of the railway industry. In his  presentation, he also outlined the vision of operating the original Port Elgin stream train in North Shore Park and the potential for developing additional tourism offerings at the Park.

As part of his vision, there would also be a ’roundhouse’ building for not only train storage but as a woodworking shop for children to make wooden trains.

Original train goes around the final curve and eases into the station in Port Elgin (Cir. 1975) – station was located at current splash pad parking

Other benefits for the Town include:

•             Tourist-specific development for North Shore Park and Port Elgin Main Beach.
•             A new yet nostalgic community asset for residents and visitors.
•             Positive economic impact from the investment, taxes, jobs, and proposed                           seasonal events.
•             An opportunity to improve North Shore Park alongside storm restoration plans.

“Personally, I’m really excited for this project”, said Charbonneau.  “As we repair the park and revitalize the waterfront, the opportunity to incorporate Scott’s proposal is perfect. I know how much residents and visitors loved the old Port Elgin and North Shore Railroad, so it is great to have the chance to include this cherished part of the Town’s past in our growing future.”

The municipality plans to hold consultations over the summer on the changes to the park, including the proposed railway and its features.  Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau says public input will help shape the final decision on the design of the park, as well as what amenities to include.

For larger view, Click on Image

It should be noted, the Cedar Crescent Village (CCV) Lease Agreement includes provisions related to the train path and maintenance on the adjoining property. Moving forward, discussions will include both CCV and Pearson to obtain the necessary release on these requirements to allow the project to advance.

Councilor Dave Myette said that, while he appreciates the nostalgic value of the proposal, he questioned the idea of having a pressurized steam vessel operating around children. “Quite frankly, it frightens me from a liability point of view and an environmental point of view.  I would much rather see an electric version as we move more toward electric vehicles and charging stations.” He also  asked whether or not a Request for Proposal (RFP) had been issued and Heather Hyde of Economic Development explained that Pearson had approached the Town without being solicited.  Myette then questioned whether the proposal was in keeping with the Town’s Waterfront Master Plan and that he wanted to see the process opened up to other possible participants and, therefore, would not support the project.

Councilor Mini Jacques explained however, that within the Waterfront Master Plan, it had been recommended to create the North Shore Park as a hub for children’s activities and take the train station to the Park to avoid the ‘bottleneck’ situation that had existed on the Beach.   She also confirmed that recommendations in the Plan had come after public consultations and talking with stakeholders and the activities linked the to the railway were important given the town’s history with trains and the fact that historically they had come down to the waterfront.  “The Plan did not state whether or not the train would be electric or steam or the train that Andy Hess had but it was a recommendation in the Waterfront Plan.”

“I think it would be good for staff to continue discussions with Mr. Pearson,” said Councillor Cheryl Grace.  “There are a lot of elements in his proposal that are appealing.”

Vice-Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt said that bringing back the original train raises the level of excitement.  “I like the idea of moving forward with discussions as there is great potential here.”  He also questioned if Pearson had reached out to the Technical Standards and Safety Association (TSSA) regarding the restoration of the train given that it would be powered by steam and also the condition of the tracks that exist.

Pearson confirmed the TSSA of Ontario governs ‘pressure vessels’ and, when the restoration of the train was completed in 2001, it had undergone extensive testing and undergoes an annual hydrostatic test [the primary method used to test for leaks and assess the structural integrity of boilers, tubing, pipelines and other pressurized vessels].  According to Pearson, the TSSA has stringent restrictions and he is not concerned with any safety issues.  “Nobody in their right mind would want to cut corners with respect to getting certification. This is a registered boiler and government requirements cannot be circumvented.  That, to me, is not a valid statement (in reference to Myette’s safety concern).  When it comes to the tracks, they will need to be completely rebuilt.  Every tie has to be replaced and rails re-gauged but the existing track is there and it’s very possible to do.”

In response to his questions, Myatt said he would support the recommendation.

Councillor John Divinski said that, since the rails would have to be ‘re-gigged’, would Pearson be paying for it.  The answer from Pearson confirmed he would be.  “This is exciting and this is only the first step and we can back away if we have to,” said Divinski.  “Both locals and tourists have been asking to bring this back and it was a huge part of the beach.  I for one will be supporting this recommendation.”

When asked by Councillor Grace about the noise level for residents, Pearson said that it was a train complete with a whistle.  “There has to be a balance between wanting to have a train and also respecting the residents and tourists of the area … whistles can be designed under a certain pressure to be either shrill or low.  People come to see  and hear a steam locomotive so I think there is a need to have a bell and whistle.”  The train will also have a ‘flat’ car for accessibility.

Recommendation: That Council direct staff to enter into further discussions with Mr. Scott Pearson regarding the Port Elgin and North Shore Railroad project in North Shore Park; and

That Council direct staff to include the proposed Port Elgin and North Shore Railroad as part of the overall community consultation process for the restoration of North Shore Park scheduled for the summer of 2022.

Mayor Charbonneau added that the recommendation envisions an ongoing discussion and consultation. The concept is to continue talking and come up with a plan to restore the park and potentially include the train. “I have heard from a lot of people since the station closed some years ago, that they miss the train and want it back.  Some have said the train was the best part of the beach.  It’s great to have an opportunity to have not only a train but  the original train and I support it.”

The recommendation was carried with Councillor Myette opposing it. To read the entire proposal, CLICK HERE.