Train rides to ease Queen’s Marque construction pains

Pay-what-you-can service could run from Discovery Centre to Historic Properties starting this summer.

click to enlarge Downtown Halifax is going to off the rails with this one. - VIA HRM
Downtown Halifax is going to off the rails with this one.

A “community road train” could be jauntily chugga-chugging through downtown traffic come this summer.

On Tuesday HRM council asked for a staff report on funding Ambassatours’ answer to the city's Queen’s Marque construction woes.

The three-carriage road “train” will shuttle folks along Lower Water Street—from the Discovery Centre to Historic Properties—and then back on Hollis Street. Each carriage will hold 20 people, with the caboose being wheelchair-accessible.

It’s one way the waterfront businesses who depend on tourist dollars are hoping to mitigate the construction of the Armour Group's massive $200-million development.

The Waterfront Development Corporation is also installing a “floating bridge” between the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s docks and Cable Wharf to help pedestrians safely avoid Queen's Marque's footprint of destruction.

The road train, which was pitched to Halifax and West Community Council last week, will be a sort of spiritual successor to the “Free Rides Everywhere Downtown” (or FRED) bus that ran for several years along a similar route.

“I think that this, actually, is frankly even better than the FRED trolley on a lot of levels,” said councillor Waye Mason at Tuesday's meeting. “It’s being run by a private operator, it’s primarily connected to the tourist sites and it’s really focused on that kind of downtown corridor.”

The idea spins-off of a tiny train service in Tatamagouche, which proved successful enough in ferrying passengers around that town’s shops that Murphy’s Cable Wharf and NovaScotian Crystal borrowed the vehicle for a two-week pilot project last fall along Halifax’s waterfront.

While Ambassatours' CEO Dennis Campbell says advertising and business donations will cover most of the costs for the pay-what-you-can train rides, the company is also asking HRM for $120,000 in funding over the next three years.

But spending money on a private corporation's tourism booster set off alarms bells for some councillors.

“I want to be supportive, but I also want to make sure we’re within our legal rights according to the Charter,” said Bill Karsten.

Council ultimately approved the request for a staff report by 17-0.

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