The Kimberley Underground Mining Railway has undergone extensive restoration work and looks forward to a bigger and better year, after substantial losses in 2020 due to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of the Sullivan Mine and Railway Historical Society.

Kimberley Underground Mining Railway looking forward to bigger, better season

The Kimberley Underground Mining Railway is looking forward to a bigger and better year following last season’s dramatically minimized operation schedule and financial loss due to the onset of the pandemic.

“We are looking forward to being able to do Mining and Powerhouse Tours this year,” said Mick Henningson, President of the Sullivan Mine and Railway Historical Society.

Last year, they weren’t able to start tours until Jul. 1 and at that time were only able to do one-hour solely train-based tours, utilizing only the first, third and fifth rows of seats in each coach, or partially filled with family bubbles.

READ MORE: Kimberley Underground Mining Railway to open on July 1, 2020

This year, they are able to begin operations on weekends starting June 12, following all necessary COVID-19 protocols.

Then on July 1 they will begin operating five days a week until Labour Day, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays being their closed days.

Again this year, they will only be filling 12 of the 20 rows of seats along the Mark Creek Valley and through the underground mining show tunnel. Their 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. tours will be full-blown Underground Mining and Powerhouse tours.

The lack of tours through the Powerhouse last year had a definite bright side. A massive restoration project was accomplished over the summer without the need to work around tours. The original structure, built in 1924, is still solid, but needed some repair work.

Thanks to funding from Columbia Basin Trust, heritage professionals were able to conduct a full assessment, develop a conservation plan and help guide the Sullivan Mine and Railway Historical Society through managing the restoration project.

The bulk of the work was the restoration of the brickwork and the 76-metre-long building’s 34 sets of windows, consisting of 3200 panes of glass.

Many of the windows had been removed entirely, so tradesperson Tom Roberts completely restored the frames. Window restoration was completed by Riemann Painting crews, who needed to don hazmat suits after discovering lead paint and asbestos in the original window glazing.

“A large window bay missing windows gave us an opportunity to replace the 2,700-foot-long rope that drives the [125-year-old] Rand compressor,” explained Henningson. “The original hemp rope was beyond repair. One of the highlights of the Powerhouse tour is seeing this 125-year-old compressor started up.”

In addition to housing the massive compressors, the Powerhouse is also home to a model of the mine and a two-tonne sample of ore, originally exhibited at the 1967 World Fair in Montreal.

Henningson said the powerhouse is special not only for its historical significance but also its tourism draw, getting around 10,000 visitors in a normal year.

“To see the powerhouse building in its new shape and to look at the before-and-after pictures is just tremendous; it’s incredible to see what we managed to accomplish,” says Henningson.

Brickwork was handled by mason Barry Bates, who repointed mortar and replaced missing bricks. Interior walls and flooring were refurbished, also by Riemann Painting.

CBT said that while contractors were hired for the project, which began in July 2019 and was completed in November, 2020, it’s estimated that volunteer and in-kind donations saved around $50,000.

“We’re so fortunate the Trust funds valuable community projects here in the Basin,” Henningson said.

In order to accommodate social distancing, there will be two miners each with a maximum of six groups touring separate areas of the tunnel and in the Powerhouse at any one time, so guests can expect very personalized tours this year.

Tour times have been spaced out to allow for staff to be able to clean and sanitize between trips. Masks will be mandatory throughout the operation, with the only exception being when on a train that’s in motion.

Henningson added that unfortunately this year they’ve had to raise fares, due to operating at a loss of $40,000 last year, even after receiving wage subsidies. In a full season they see around 10,000 visitors, but last year’s reduced schedule and restrictions resulted in only being able to handle 4720 visitors.

”Thankfully, Teck Resources and the City of Kimberley have come to our rescue to keep us in business this year until our revenue exceeds our early season costs,” Henningson explained. “It takes a lot of fares just to pay winter utility costs and insurance, in particular, the latter being $28,000 last year.”

The train ride on all tours is about eight kilometres long and all tours go through the mining display tunnel. No tours will go to the Resort this season to allow time for cleaning between trains.

“Our volunteers and season staff look forward to seeing you on one of our now much more personalized tours whether it be a full Mining/Powerhouse tour or just the Scenic Train Ride,” Henningson said.

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