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All aboard!: A team at Calgary's Heritage Park is building an accessible passenger rail car

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The rail car is out of the elements, parked inside one of Heritage Park's two woodworking shops.

It's a bright, warm space where carpenters have spent the past seven months transforming an old Morrissey, Fernie and Michel railway flat deck that lived out its life working in the Crowsnest Pass.

It's known as Car 53, but now looks more like a colonist passenger car.

George Harding, general manager of facilities and maintenance at Heritage Park, says the old floor boards and red paint on the steel frame are gone.

It's been cleaned up, sandblasted, painted black and the park's carpenters have built the floor, walls and curved roof.

"There have been some very extensive restorations (at the park), nearly to the point of a full rebuild," said Harding.

"But I think this will probably be the most complete beginning-to-end construction of a rail car."

In the early 1900s, there was no such thing as an accessible rail car for people with mobility challenges and the goal of this project is to change that by building something new that still has a historic feel.

"If you're in a wheelchair, if you’re mobility-challenged, we want you to be able to ride the train," said Dominic Terry, the park's strategic communications manager.

"I mean, if you come to Heritage Park and you can't ride the train, you're missing one of our major attractions here, for sure."

Terry says the federal government provided a grant of $438,750 to get the project rolling.

"CP rail has been a major donor to this project, as well as several very generous Albertans," he said.

"We're always happy for those people to come in and really see the value of what we do here at the park and fund these great projects that we have in our brain and they give us the ability to go and do it."

Nathan Peebles is a fourth-year apprentice carpenter who's working on the project and says he has a lot of respect for the people that built rail cars a century ago.

"It's a great opportunity to learn new things," he said, "because I haven't done much of this, so it's really cool to see the tricks and how jigs are so important to make the work consistent with all these (roof brackets), especially."

Peebles says the construction team is using period methods where it can to build the accessible passenger car.

"But certain things like plywood, they didn't have that, so they would use tongue and groove instead," he said.

"So if there's certain things that you can do smarter and better and it doesn't affect the design or the style or the look or anything, then you might want to go smarter sometimes."

Harding says it's important to make sure the new rail car doesn't look out of place when it's attached to the park's steam locomotive.

He says soon work will start on making sure the three train stations at the park are long enough for the additional passenger car, and more importantly that those stations have the correct spacing for the car's wide staircase and wheelchair lift.

"We may have to take some of those fences and move them backwards to allow the lift to come down and the stairs as well," said Harding.

"So we'll be making those tweaks in the next little while."

Harding says the goal is to have the new accessible rail car finished by March, 2023, and in operation when the park opens. 

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