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HomeCranbrook NewsFort Steele train taken off the tracks for 2024

Fort Steele train taken off the tracks for 2024

Fort Steele’s 1077 locomotive will not be on the tracks this year, with park management citing safety concerns.

The iconic steam engine is now 101 years old and Kevin Weaver, Friends of Fort Steele Society president, said it may be time for it to retire.

“Last August, the Railway Manager spoke with several board members about his concern that the 1077 was nearing the end of its working life and it will be increasingly difficult and costly to maintain,” said Weaver.

“He was trying to find a replacement locomotive for us to acquire. He thought he found one in the Okanagan, but it was too large to handle the turns on our track and it would cost about a million dollars, which is way beyond our means.”

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Weaver said the board spoke with BC Heritage, Technical Safety BC and their insurance agency.

“From talking to our insurance agent, he pointed out a cause in our insurance policy that basically says if there’s a chance of a serious incident occurring and we don’t do everything reasonably possible to address the risk, our policy won’t cover us and the board members will be personally liable,” explained Weaver.

“Given that bit of intel and the age of the train, the board felt the responsible thing to do was to park the train in 2024 until a full independent assessment covering the locomotive and all aspects of the train operations.”

Weaver said the assessment would also include the tracks, operating and governing procedures, and checking for regulatory compliance.

In the assessment, the board will look at how long they can expect to continue to operate and maintain the train.

“This was not an easy decision for the board. It’s one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations,” said Weaver.

“I would rather be damned for trying to prevent an accident than damned for not doing a full and proper assessment.”

However, Fort Steele’s former interim general manager Shannon Panko said the on-site train crew has the experience to maintain the engine.

“Our train crew has over 100 years of rail experience and they are certified to test the tracks,” said Panko.

“As far as boiler certification goes, it’s tested by an independent contractor every season, anyway. That was scheduled for April 16th, but that has been cancelled.”

The decision comes after Forst Steele’s workforce joined a union to protect employees.

“Fort Steele Heritage Town is now being managed by a three-person board of directors,” said Panko.

“Employees have been fired and laid off, all while the board is citing staff shortages as the reason for park closures and event cancellations. Also, the volunteer program was dissolved in January, and volunteers are the lifeblood of Fort Steele.”

Weaver said the fort will be closed through April as they get ready for the season ahead, with school groups visiting in May and full operations (minus the train) to get underway by July 1.

As of Thursday, April 11, Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka weighed in on the discussion with a public statement on social media.

“This major attraction to Kootenay East goes far beyond the economic driver it provides for our region. It is also a staple of the Kootenay East diet that involves the multi-generational lifestyle and legacy for children and families everywhere in the Kootenays,” said Shypitka.

“The integrity and full operation needs to be maintained. I will continue discussions with government and stakeholders to ensure we have as little disruption as possible.”


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