Trinity — The provincial government “has no wish” to assume ownership of the Trinity Train Loop, Tourism Minister Terry French acknowledged via email last week.
So, unless a private group or individual is willing to take it on, the deteriorating tourist attraction near Trinity will eventually meet its demise.
That’s upsetting for Stephen Bonnell, a railway aficionado and vice-president of the Clarenville Heritage Society.
“What you’re probably going to see is it being dismantled,” he said.
“I don’t want to see that happen.”
Bonnell heads down to the Loop a couple of times a year just to check on its condition.
“The vandalism has worsened with each passing year,” he said.
Hurricane Igor added more damage in September.
There’s two parts to the Loop: the historical loop of railway and a deserted amusement park. The track has always been considered to be on Crown land.
Ross Wiseman, the MHA for Trinity North, said the amusement park reverted back to Crown land more than five years ago after the previous owner defaulted on payments.
Four years after trains stopped running on the Bonavista Peninsula in 1984, tracks in the region were removed.
The Trinity Train Loop was built in 1911 by the Reid Newfoundland Company as part of a provincial government push to connect the province by rail.
The challenge for engineers at Trinity was to build a track that would allow the train to descend a steep elevation into the Town of Trinity, which was then a bustling outport and a centre of commerce for the region.
To allow the train to make the steep descent, the solution was to loop 6,600 feet of track around a pond, allowing it to descend gradually over a longer distance.
There are similar loops in the mountains of British Columbia.
Because of the unique engineering design of the track and its ties to pre-Confederation, and thanks to lobbying efforts of former railroad employee Clayton Cook, the loop was designated a heritage structure in 1988.
Then Francis Kelly built an amusement park around the site. The Trinity Train Loop was a going concern for several years, from the late 1980s until the late 1990s. For the past few years, however, it has been idle.
The wooden ties are rotting, the steel is rusting and the forest is beginning to move in on the track.
While the loop has historic designation by the province’s Heritage Foundation, that may not be enough to save it.
“Designations by the Heritage Foundation are commemorative only and, as such, the foundation bears no responsibility for the preservation of any designated site, as that rests with the owner,” French explained.
“Funding for heritage preservation is provided through a Crown agency, the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the amount of up to $30,000 per project on a matched basis. The owner of the railway can apply for funding through the foundation. To date, no application has been received by the foundation.”
Bonnell can only wonder whether anyone is interested in taking ownership of the site, or leading an effort to restore the historic section of track.
“I know that government hasn’t expressed any interest in owning it themselves or operating it, they have no interest in taking ownership of it,” he said.
“I think they would be willing to work with someone with a fair amount of capital to put into it to get it cleaned up and getting a lot of the safety issues addressed. But the question is, is there going to be anyone coming forward?”
As Wiseman noted, “If there’s people out there who are interested in reopening it or want to become involved in the operation of it, in any fashion … they should sit down and have a chat with the Department of Tourism.”