The North Bay Heritage Railway and Carousel Company now has a wheelchair accessible train coach.
It was officially launched Sunday, much to the delight of residents who have been waiting years to ride the miniature train at the North Bay waterfront, but were unable to because of their wheelchair.
The train has been modified to accommodate two wheelchairs at a time.
Darlene Beaulieu carefully went up the specially made ramp and her wheelchair was securely locked in place for her first official ride on the train.
“This is great. It means if I want to go for a ride, I can go for a ride now. There’s no stopping me. Before, it looked good, it looked fun but I couldn’t get on it. This lets me get on it like everybody else.”
Wayne Valley, a volunteer at the North Bay Heritage Railway and Carousel Company got his inspiration for the modified train coach while on vacation.
“The idea came to me when we were in Florida, and I saw a rubber tired train, and they had wheelchairs on it. I saw it on television, and I watched it closely and thought ‘you know, we can do that.’ So when I came back I approached the volunteers and they said ‘we’re not sure where to start’ and I said ‘I’ll start. I’ll do it,’” laughed Valley.
“I ended up talking to my son Shawn and he did all the drafting and all the drawing for it. We talked to other volunteers and Dan said we should take it to an engineer, so we got George Payne to check it over. We had to change a few things to make it right. We got the inspectors here and they were amazed,” said Valley.
Payne inspected the work and signed off on it, once it was ready to go.
“The car is a basic car we use. It’s one more step toward opening up accessibility to everybody, for everything. Up until now, anybody in a wheelchair couldn’t ride on this train.”
Volunteer Bill White said it was a proud day for the Heritage Train and Carousel Company.
“This is for anybody with a wheelchair, children and adults alike. Wheelchair accessible, that’s the key. We’re able to handle some of the biggest wheelchairs and it’s working well. We had the TSSA (Technical Standards and Safety Act) inspector in and he was blown away. The comment was that he knows of nothing like this in the province of Ontario, which is fun,” said White.
“The wheelchair accessible train car is just a really wonderful milestone for us. We’re happy to be able to offer this now to those in our community, and those coming in from out-of-town who otherwise would not have been able to ride on the train, now can.”
Dr. Rod Johnson, chair of the Heritage Railway, said thanks to the expertise of some of the volunteers, and the donation of money toward the project, finally, after years of waiting, the Heritage Railway is fully accessible.
“We now have all the right ramps and equipment. We just loaded two people on to it with their wheelchairs. One was motorized which is quite heavy, and the other one is quite light, and getting them both on was slick as anything. It was really neat. So for the first time in our history, we’re able to take disabled people on the train. It’s very exciting.”
Nora Long, Chair of the North Bay Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee (MAAC) was on hand for the inaugural run of the accessibility train.
“MAAC applauds the Heritage Railway and Carousel Company. It’s amazing what they’ve done here. The whole idea of the accessibility, removing barriers, it’s just everything we’re all about. We’re just so excited about this, and to meet the people who volunteer here, they’re genuinely wonderful people. They just do this from the heart and it makes me so proud to be part of North Bay.”
Wayne Valley is proud of everyone’s efforts to be able to pull the project together.
“Seeing it being used is great. I love the looks on their faces. They’re happy. It’s been a dream of mine. I’ve been working on it for a little over a year, and it’s a big day for me to see it all come together.”
Regularly scheduled service will be Sunday from 1 until 5 p.m., and Tuesday from 1 until 5 p.m. beginning July 3.