Wattrain attends the HRA Fall Conference

By Stefano Benazzo, President, Wattrain

The representatives of about 55 Museums, Railways and Associations were in Squamish, along with the representatives of 13 vendors. Rail Events Inc., FareHarbor, ETIX, Mattel, McRail, Dynamic Ticket Solutions and Castle Rock Carbon & Coal lavishly sponsored the event. G. Mark Ray, President of HRA, presided over the Conference, which took place at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park at the Roundhouse (built in 2009) and at the connected Conference Center, the focal points of the Park. The World Alliance of Tourist Trams and Trains (Wattrain) was the only non – USA/Canada association attending the Conference. 

Wattrains’s good friend Al Harper, founder of American Heritage Railways, the premier operator of heritage railways in USA – whose subsidiary Rail Events Inc. licensed in 2018 events that hosted over one million guests at 50 partner railroads in the USA, Canada and UK – attended the Squamish Conference along with his crew. 

The President of Wattrain was offered the floor right at the beginning of the proceedings in order to inform the attendees that the next Wattrain Conference will take place at the National Italian Railway Museum in Pietrarsa (Naples, Italy) in May 2021. He invited all the HRA Members to attend the Pietrarsa Conference. Wattrain intends to finalize the date of its Conference in order to accommodate HRA Members and their commitments related to their own Organization. 

The Pietrarsa Museum, located a few kilometers South of Naples (in the town of Portici), is a former rail and maritime workshop erected in 1853 which was the birthplace of the Italian rail history. It entered in operation as a museum in 1975 and is entrusted since 2013 to the “Foundation of the Italian Railway Company”. It preserves more than 50 locomotives (25 steam), many carriages and a number of exhibits. It is located in an enchanting scenario: the Gulf of Naples with Ischia, Capri and Procida on the horizon, the Sorrento Peninsula on the left, the Vesuvius looming over. 

Among the items to be added to the Wattrain 2021 Conference program, the following are worth mentioning: 

  • Visits to world-renowned tourist spots near Naples (Ischia, Capri, Procida, Sorrento, Pompeii, Caserta, the Vesuvius, etc.); 
  • Visits via high-speed trains to Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, etc. 
  • Trips to other railway-connected locations in Italy; 
  • Possibility to travel on heritage railways in Europe; 
  • A special train organized by the Italian National Railway to enable attendees to travel from Naples to the Pietrarsa Museum (the train stops right at the Museum); 
  • A trip to Istanbul (Turkey), with the possibility to visit the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, which offers (among tens of thousands of artifacts) many standard and narrow gauge locomotives and wagons, and a vast number of models and railwayana. 

Wattrain’s invitation was considered with great interest; a hard copy memo about the Conference was distributed to all attendees, containing many elements about the prospected logistical details. Wattrain will confirm the date of its Conference ASAP. 

The plenary inaugural session of the Squamish HRA Conference centered upon “Heritage Rail Industry Challenges and Solutions”, and pointed out the following aspects of shared interest: 

  • Coal is a general problem, not only considering the right to use it and its availability, but also its after-products; (Note: Wattrain’s representatives at the Conference and HRA members agreed that this is a common problem); 
  • HRA Members should be ready to tackle their problems from both strategical and tactical points of view; 
  • There is a strong need to make increased use of social media; 
  • Among the main principles governing the activity of HRA, the following were mentioned: diversity, equity, access, inclusion. 

The main seminar themes of the HRA Conference were: 

  • • Succession planning for your organization; 
  • • Significance assessment of objects and collections in transportation museums; 
  • • Revenue generation – Thinking outside the box; 
  • • Social media roundtable discussion; 
  • • Perpetuating a management contract; 
  • • Fund-raising for railways museums. 
  • • (Note: Whoever at Wattrain is interested in one or more of these topics can let us know, and we will try and obtain info or hard copies from the speakers). 

Squamish is a town one hour North of Vancouver, surrounded by mountains such as the Stawamus Chief, the second largest granite monolith (after El Capitan in USA) in North America, the dream of any free-climber. Squamish was founded in the 1910s, during the construction of the Pacific Coast Eastern Railway. It has now become popular, with nearby Whistler, as one of the outdoors Meccas of Canada. Tourism is an increasingly important part of the town’s economy. 

The West Coast Railway Association (WCRA) is a non-profit society incorporated in 1961 with the mandate to restore, preserve and maintain Canada’s railway heritage. The Association has over 1.500 active members and many volunteers who are the heart the organization. The Association manages the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, a 12-acre site replicating a turn-of-the-century town including multiple historic buildings, a train station, a mini-rail and the CN Roundhouse & Conference Center. It hosts a significant collection of railway artifacts, along with 90 historic pieces of rolling stock and locomotives, among which the historic Royal Hudson steam locomotive. It offers year-round opportunities and is a popular venue for events such as the Polar Express. 

HRA and WCRA also organized off-site tours: 

  • • A ride of British Columbia Electric interurbans at Cloverdale; 
  • • A trip to Whistler; 
  • • A trip to the Rail Pavilion in Vancouver and on the Rocky Mountaineer Train; 
  • • A visit to the nearby Britannia Mine, once the largest copper mine in the British Empire. 

Wattrain extends its most heartfelt congratulations to G. Mark Ray, to Bob Philip, President and CEO of the West Coast Railway Association, to their Members and Crews, and to all the Volunteers for the perfect organization of the Conference, and thanks them and the Sponsors for their hospitality, looking forward to seeing them, their spouses, partners and families in Italy in 2021. 

To learn more go to www.wattrain.net.