Small Saskatchewan town welcomes stranded train passengers on Christmas morning

SPY HILL, Sask. — A small Saskatchewan town has opened its doors on Christmas morning to a Via Rail train with almost 100 passengers that suffered mechanical problems due to extremely cold weather.

Company spokeswoman Mariam Diaby says in an email that the train travelling between Vancouver and Toronto had to stop at Spy Hill, and the passengers were sheltered in the local community centre where they received food, drinks and warmth.

Spy Hill’s deputy fire chief, Calvin Petracek, says he was doing chores on his farm when texts went out to local firefighters asking volunteers to help.

Petracek says there’s no railway station in Spy Hill, which has a population of about 300 people, so the train was stopped at a siding in the community.

He says it’s only about 100 metres from the train to the hall and most passengers walked, but the temperature is -43 C with wind chill.

Petracek says the stranded passengers were being served pancakes cooked by people in the town, with help from the cooks on the train.

“The population of Spy Hill increased 25 per cent through Christmas due to this,” Petracek said.

Diaby said the passengers — 98 in total — would be taken to Winnipeg by bus later today. She said Via is looking at alternative transportation for the passengers from Winnipeg onward.

“The safety and well-being of our passengers is our priority and we will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Diaby said in the email.

Petracek said he doesn’t believe it was all that cold on the train when it pulled into Spy Hill, but said there was no heat in some of the cars.

He said the spirits of the passengers was surprisingly good.

“Everybody is taking it in stride,” he said. “What can you do? Most of them are just happy to be in where it was warm.”