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All aboard

Royal Hudson ready to roll again



By Vivian Moreau

There have been times in the past 14 months when project manager Singh Biln wondered if the Royal Hudson would ever be ready to hit the rails again. But with the 66-year-old locomotive completing a second steam up trial this week the Royal Hudson is on target for an official unveiling Sept. 28 at the West Coast Railway Association’s heritage park in Squamish.

“The end is in sight and we can just about taste victory in a sense,” Biln said. “It’s getting so close and looking very well.”

With insulation, exterior jacketing, front nose and headlight reinstalled, Biln said the 300,000 kilogram Royal Hudson now looks more like a locomotive rather than a work in progress.

The vintage locomotive that for 25 years ran as a tourist train between North Vancouver and Squamish will be steamed up again for its Sept. 28 unveiling and will travel a one-kilometre track on the heritage park’s property. Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon will be in attendance, as will donors who have contributed to the Hudson’s $500,000 boiler upgrade. Volunteers who have worked on the Hudson as well as suppliers and members of the public are welcome.

Built in Montreal in 1940, the Royal Hudson 2860 was a sister locomotive to the 2850 that carried King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their 1939 cross-Canada tour. The locomotive worked for 16 years on the Vancouver to Revelstoke run with a top speed of 193 kilometres per hour before a first retirement in 1956. Refitted and put back into service by the Royal Hudson Steam Society in 1974, the locomotive’s second incarnation was as a tourist train between North Vancouver and Squamish. Facing a $2.5 million boiler replacement in 1999 she was again retired.

But with provincial and federal grants and numerous private donations, the 14-wheel locomotive has undergone an extensive refit.

“She has a completely new set of innards and should be good for another 25 to 50 years,” said Don Evans, executive director of the WCRA, the non-profit group dedicated to preserving British Columbia’s railway history.

After her Sept. 28 unveiling at the association’s Squamish yards, Evans would like to see the Royal Hudson make special event trips, such as the one she did to White Rock in 1997.

“The word went out in the local White Rock paper and when she chugged into town there were 10,000 people standing on the promenade and the waterfront just waiting to see her arrive.”

Negotiations are currently underway with railway partners for potential trip itineraries and Vancouver-based Rocky Mountaineer Vacations say they are interested.

“There aren’t too many organizations in the rail business and it’s good to have friends like the WCRA,” said Graham Gilley, vice-president, marketing, “and if there is an opportunity for us to help promote the Royal Hudson we would never say no.”