Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS)

The Waterloo Central Railway is operated by the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS).

Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS)

SOLRS is a private, not-for-profit, registered charitable organization managed by a volunteer Board of Directors and operated by Volunteers dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and operation of vintage railway equipment for the education and enjoyment of the public.

Our History

It all began over twenty five years ago, in St. Thomas, Ontario, with a dream to restore the Essex Terminal Railway Alco 0-6-0 Steam Locomotive No. 9….

Before 1993
  • Prior to 1993, dedicated volunteers completed steam locomotive restoration work in donated space at various locations around the province.
  • In 1993, the Society acquired a space to call its own in St. Thomas.
1993-1998: Restoring Steam Locomotive No. 9 - A Real 500-Piece Puzzle
  • The St. Thomas Central Railway (STCR) was the first operations division of SOLRS.
  • In 1993, the STCR set up operations in St. Thomas, Ontario, in the former Michigan Central Railroad Locomotive Shops. These shops were also occupied by the Elgin County Railway Museum, which had opened in 1988.
  • In December 1993, steam locomotive No. 9 arrived on three flatbed trucks, in over 500 pieces, some broken or missing, with few instructions.
1993-2010: The St. Thomas Shop and the Canada Southern Railway Lands
  • Thomas was at one time known as the Railway Capital of Canada.
  • In 1856, the London and Port Stanley Railway arrived to St. Thomas.
  • In 1869, the Michigan Central Railroad established a railway maintenance depot in St. Thomas, The St. Thomas Shop, at the midpoint between New York and Chicago. The railway shortcut was known as the Canada Southern Railway.
  • Over time, American ownership of the Canada Southern Railway and the St. Thomas Shop passed to the New York Central Railroad, then Penn Central, and finally Conrail.
  • In 1985, Conrail sold the Canada Southern Railway to joint Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway ownership.
  • In 1988, the Elgin County Railway Museum took occupancy of the St. Thomas Shop.
  • In 1993 SOLRS started using the Shop.
  • By 2006, with the St. Thomas Shop was in need of repair and, with the Canadian National Railway applying to abandon of the track on which it operated in St. Thomas, SOLRS had to find a new location from which to operate.
  • In 2010, when the society’s lease with the Elgin County Railway Museum ended, the last SOLRS equipment, material, and tools were finally moved from St. Thomas to the new St. Jacobs Restoration Shop.
1997-2000: Locomotive No. 9 Steam Tours Around Ontario
  • On October 2, 1997, after five years and over 50,000 hours of volunteer labour, steam locomotive No. 9 returned to steam for the first time since 1962.
  • The organization began operating No. 9, the flagship locomotive of the St. Thomas Central Railway, as a fundraising effort to support ongoing railway restoration work for the Society.
  • From 1997 to 2007, SOLRS operated several steam tours around Ontario and visited several lines that had not seen operating passenger trains for many decades.
  • The 2003 steam tour included a week-long run in Waterloo Region.
2007: SOLRS Moves to Waterloo Region
  • In 2007, SOLRS entered into a lease agreement with the Regional Municipality of Waterloo for the use of the Waterloo Spur, which runs north from Kitchener to Elmira, Ontario. They also entered into a contract to provide tourist train service.
  • Waterloo Region was an attractive prospect for a heritage train operation. The rail spur was owned by the local municipality and the farm country north of Waterloo attracted tourists.
  • In fall of 2007, the bulk of the equipment was moved from St. Thomas to the Waterloo Region. In St. Thomas, restoration work continued on two smaller steam engines.
  • To mark the move, the St. Thomas Central Railway was renamed the Waterloo Central Railway.
2010: The St. Jacobs Restoration Shop Opens
  • By 2007, SOLRS required a new repair shop in the Waterloo area. They were awarded a federal grant to build a restoration shop in St. Jacobs.
  • In the fall of 2007, a new 5,700 square foot restoration shop was designed. The modern 62 x 95 foot facility included two through tracks, two inspection pits, wide work areas, good lighting, full insulation and heating. It enabled restoration and maintenance work to continue year-round. In addition, public washrooms, storage, and an office completed the facility.
  • In 2010, the St. Jacobs Restoration Shop opened.
  • Today, SOLRS volunteers restore light and heavy-duty railway equipment at the shop.
Photo of Locomotive No. 9 during Restoration.

Locomotive No. 9 during Restoration.