Residents on track with railway and train returning to Donalda

Upgrading the rail line – Work continues to rebuild the railway line from Stettler to Red Willow under East Centre Alberta Heritage Society as workers Doug Slemp (left) and Andrew Leard do nipping and tucking just north of Stettler.

Residents of Donalda are eager to welcome an influx of tourists and enhanced business opportunities when the heritage railway line approaches the village with train excursions in the coming years.

“I know it’s going to happen,” said Village of Donalda Mayor Bruce Gartside, who is also the funding administrator for East Central Alberta Heritage Society that is developing the project. Gartside is also a member of Donalda and District Community Promotions Society that hosted a forum on the project Nov. 10.

“The large crowd at the forum with strong support and many ideas certainly motivates and encourages us,” he said at the meeting where there were about 60 participants.

The heritage society continues on track to restore the old railway line from Stettler to Big Valley with about $3 million received from federal Community Adjustment Fund, under Western Economic Diversification program through Canadian Badlands tourism agency.

However, the funding and federal deadline of next March to complete the work will extend the line only to Red Willow at this stage, that leaves about nine more miles to complete the line to Donalda, according to Bob Willis who operates Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions.

“We will need about $2.6 million to compete the line to Donalda,” said Willis.

He and society president Norma Leslie urged the community to rally to relay the railway to Donalda.

“It is crucial that it is a Donalda project because the greatest economic impact will be in Donalda,” said Willis.

“The profile of your community will be raised.”

Residents were encouraged to form a group to raise funds and suggested people become members of the society.

“We need to raise a lot of money and we would like a group of about 20 people to help raise funds for this project,” said Leslie.

Many people still remember when the train stopped its regular twice-weekly trips many years ago, when hundreds of passengers visited the community twice a week, she said.

“If we get the train back to Donalda, they will spend money here,” said Leslie.

“You community has a lot of first-class tourists attractions,” added Willis.

Several citizens and business owners also reminisced the benefits of the train to the community and are enthusiastic about the train coming back.

The society also plans to further approach the provincial government with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development – under local Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden – although Willis noted that the Alberta Rural Development Fund does not apply to capital projects.

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