Members of the East Central Alberta Heritage Society are working on a stretch of track linking Stettler and Donalda.

Members of the East Central Alberta Heritage Society are working on a stretch of track linking Stettler and Donalda.

Rail link effort chugging along

Efforts to build a rail link from Stettler to Donalda for historic rail tours keeps chugging along — albeit a little slower than anticipated.

Efforts to build a rail link from Stettler to Donalda for historic rail tours keeps chugging along — albeit a little slower than anticipated.

“It’s taking longer and costing more,” summed up Norma Leslie, president of the East Central Alberta Heritage Society.

It was once hoped that the last spikes would be driven in late 2011 for a 12-km stretch from Stettler to Red Willow. But unco-operative weather and the challenges of the job pushed back the schedule.

If all goes well, the stretch to Red Willow will be done this fall, said Leslie.

“We have enough material and enough money to complete the project to Red Willow.

“The big ‘iffy’ part is the weather,” she said.

The equipment to lay rails and spread ballast is very heavy and when the ground is wet, track crews risk damaging the rail bed if they go ahead.

The society is leading the $3.3-million project to restore an abandoned rail line on the east side of Hwy 56 north of Stettler that was ripped out for scrap in 1997. When complete, the society hopes to lay about 25 km of new rails all the way to Donalda.

When complete, it’s expected Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, which runs popular trips from Stettler to Big Valley, will add a northern route.

At the same time as rail was being laid, five natural linear parks were created near Edberg, Meeting Creek, Big Valley, Rowley and Morrin as part of an $800,000 project. Finishing touches on the those parks along rail right of ways will be done this summer.

The first half of the project was given a big boost in 2009 when Western Economic Diversification Canada gave the project $2.6 million in funding provided through Canadian Badlands, which promotes tourism in that stretch of Alberta.

More money was raised through provincial and corporate funding.

Now, efforts are focused on raising a similar amount of money to finish the project, which could cost about another $3 million.

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions is donating proceeds from the Father’s Day run on June 16 to the society.

A casino licence has also been approved for the historical group that will provide a big fundraising boost.

Government support, corporate sponsorships and other donations, including in-kind donations, are also being sought.

“It’s just a matter of putting yourself out there and scratching for everything we can get.”

Leslie said they haven’t set a target date to be finished.

“The sooner the better. We aren’t in a position to go into debt over it. So the money has to come first.”

Society member Bruce Gartside said one of the challenges has been finding sources of the heavy gauge rail needed.

“There seems to be lots of discontinued lines. But (the rails) are staying on the ground for whatever reason (instead of being salvaged).”

What rail comes on the market seems to be attracting premium prices.

Leslie said the society is also working to raise its profile and is looking at spearheading an effort to develop, along with other museum groups and historical societies, a heritage corridor on the 160 km of rail right of way between Morrin and Edberg.

The stretch is full of gems such as original train stations, grain elevators, a sod house and other heritage sites.

Meanwhile, the society will always welcome aboard new volunteers, she said.

“New blood has new ideas and that’s what we’re looking for.”

For information on the society go to www.albertarailheritage.com.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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