A Step Back in Time...
The History of Waterloo Central Railway
Waterloo Central Railway and its predecessors have a rich and exciting history that trace back to the construction of the Waterloo Junction Railway in the late 1800s.
- The Waterloo Junction Railway was incorporated in 1889 to build a 10-mile railway line northward from Waterloo to Elmira.
- Service between Waterloo and Elmira was inaugurated on November 27, 1891 with a connection to the Grand Trunk Railway main line less than two miles south of Waterloo at Berlin, now Kitchener.
- The Waterloo Junction railway was acquired by the Grand Trunk Railway and formally amalgamated as part of the GTR system in April 1893.
- At its peak, the line saw six passenger and three freight trains per day.
- In 1910 the Grand Trunk replaced the original Waterloo station with a handsome new brick building on Regina Street. Although its function as a railway station ended decades ago, the Waterloo station has been wonderfully restored by men’s clothier Paul Puncher and serves as a menswear store.
- The Grand Trunk Railway was absorbed by Canadian National Railways in 1923.
- The Kitchener-Elmira branch was operated by CN until the Region of Waterloo purchased the 11.9-mile line, by then designated the Waterloo Spur, in 1995.
- The Region of Waterloo purchased the line to preserve, maintain, and enhance the transportation corridor between Kitchener and Elmira.
- CN continued to provided freight service on the line until 1998 when the Goderich-Exeter Railway assumed the responsibility along with its lease of the CN Guelph Subdivision.
- CN returned as freight operator on the Waterloo Spur in November 2018.
- In 1997 a group of local investors formed the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway to operate a for-profit tourist train operation between its namesake localities.
- The new heritage railway constructed a station on railway land at the intersection of Erb and Caroline Streets in Waterloo as its base of operations.
- City of Waterloo acquired the station in the year 2000 after Waterloo-St. Jacobs ceased operation.
2000 – Present:
- Originally based in the former Michigan Central Railroad shop in St. Thomas, Ont., the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS) relocated its equipment, restoration projects and St. Thomas Central Railway excursion operations to the Waterloo Region in the year 2007.
- The centerpiece of the SOLRS collection is steam locomotive No. 9, an 0-6-0 switcher built for the Essex Terminal Railway by Montreal Locomotive Works in 1923.
- No. 9 was completely rebuilt in the St. Thomas shop and restored to operation by a dedicated group of volunteers led by Don Broadbear, one of the founding members of the group.
- In 2007 SOLRS established an operating agreement with the Region Municipality of Waterloo for use of the Waterloo Spur.
- Also in 2007, SOLRS formed the Waterloo Central Railway and initiated tourist train services between the Erb Street station in Waterloo and St. Jacobs.
- The Waterloo Central Railway is a licensed shortline railway under the Shortlines Railway Act of Ontario with safety oversight provided by Transport Canada.
- In 2010 SOLRS completed construction of a modern Restoration & Maintenance Facility in St. Jacobs. The 5,700-square-foot facility with two through tracks and inspection pits allows restoration and maintenance of the society’s locomotives and equipment to be conducted year-round
- A portion of the Waterloo Spur between Uptown Waterloo and Northfield Drive was incorporated into the route of the ION light rail transit line which commenced operation in 2019. As part of this change, Waterloo Central revised its tourist train service and now operates tourist, heritage and special trains between the Northfield Drive connection with the ION, St. Jacobs, and Elmira.
- After an absence of more than 90 years passengers can again travel by rail from Kitchener-Waterloo (and beyond) to St. Jacobs and Elmira. Freight service between Kitchener and Elmira is contracted to Canadian National. Freight trains are in the overnight hours during which the ION does not operate its LRT service.
- Today, SOLRS volunteers work daily restoring and maintaining heritage railway equipment such as steam locomotive No. 9 (link to restoration projects) and providing heritage passenger service, steam train excursions, themed train experiences, and special charter trains between Waterloo, St. Jacobs, and Elmira.