StettlerLocal.com May 1, 2023 at 4:55 pm
One of Stettler's most famous attractions is ready to steam into the 2023 tourist season.
Steam in a literal sense, because locomotive No. 41 is Back on Track at Alberta Prairie Railway.
General Manager Bob Willis says both the steam and diesel locomotives are primed for the upcoming tourist season. This year will be Alberta Prairie's first full schedule since the start of COVID-19 health restrictions in 2020.
"2020 was the year we never turned a wheel," says Willis. Even so, he explains, the organization was able to keep staff employed by repairing and renovating train cars,
This year, however, looks promising. The first trip of the year is a Mother's Day excursion to Big Valley, and the schedule only gets busier from there.
"People come here from all over the world to experience what we offer," he says.
Willis says the goal of the railway was always to promote tourism in the area, and he names several countries from which visitors have travelled, including the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.
"We're not fancy," says Willis, "but this is a new experience for a lot of tourists. Many of them have never experienced a community home-cooked meal 'in volume' before, especially if they're from overseas or big cities here in Canada."
Alberta Prairie has accommodated as many as 27,000 visitors in a single season. During the Polar Express excursions, two to four trains run daily that carry about 1,000 passengers per day.
Willis says train travel is a social event, and staff are good at encouraging social interaction.
"We're a little prairie town on wheels," he says. "People talk more about the staff, and the other passengers they've met, than they do about the trains or the railway."
Alberta Prairie has two destinations this year: Big Valley and the Country Hideaway at Warden. This is their 33rd year in operation.