Manitoba’s vintage Prairie Dog Central brought to a standstill amid pandemic

By | August 4, 2020

WINNIPEG — For the first time in more than 20 years the Prairie Dog Central – Manitoba’s vintage locomotive – has been brought to a standstill due to COVID-19.

The Vintage Locomotive Society, which owns and operates the Prairie Dog Central, announced in late July that it will be cancelling the remainder of the 2020 season.

The historical train – one of the oldest in North America – has been transporting Manitobans from Inkster Junction Station to the community of Grosse Isle since the late 90s.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the society to cancel the season.

“We found that we could not live up to social distancing whatsoever inside the train coaches without putting families and passengers at risk – that’s really it,” Paul Newsome, the general manager of the Vintage Locomotive Society told CTV News, adding it is difficult to enforce physical distancing measures during the stops at Grosse Isle.

Newsome said the society decided back in March to cancel events planned in May and June due to the growing numbers of COVID-19 in Manitoba at the time. He said in late July, the society decided to cancel all events in August, September, and October.

“The entire 2020 season of the Prairie Dog Central is not going to happen,” he said, adding the last time a season was cancelled was in the 1990s when the railway was relocated to its current home on Inkster Boulevard.

“For the last 21 years, we have not cancelled a season.”

While the loss of a season has taken a financial hit on the railway, Newsome said the society runs a commercial train care storage business, adding the income from this business will keep the Prairie Dog Central afloat.

Though there will be no trips planned on the vintage railway this year, Newsome said he expects the Prairie Dog Central will ride again next season.

“We’ll obviously keep our eyes out as to what’s going on in the world around us and as we get into 2021 we’ll start planning for a return to operations,” he said.

Newsome said the society will post information about the Prairie Dog Central’s operations on its website or on Facebook. 

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