Saturday, May 26, 2007

Opening Day Coverage

Friday of this Memorial Day weekend was the day for newspaper ads and articles for the mountains "second season" of summer, the first being winter and skiing. Not surprisingly, the news outlets cover mountain recreation and one of the best family activities is riding a scenic mountain railroad.

The New Mexico Business Weekly covered the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic, although it's not clear what "four new locomotives" are referred to in the article. All research results point to the same roster as last year. I did find a new tamper sitting in Antonito on slim rails in April 2007.

The Associated Press put out an article on Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad workers training in wildfire prevention.

More interestingly, the Denver Post encourages everyone to ride the train in Georgetown when, just the day before, they told us that the railroad will not open until June 15th. This oversight obviously reveals that one article was written before the other one, yet in an industry that seldom has urgent, breaking news, questions continue to circulate on the internet regarding the lateness of the announcement that they will not be open this weekend.

Finally, what didn't make the news is that the San Luis & Rio Grande, better known as the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, has opened for the first time with live steam over the standard gauge line. It marks the first time in over 50 years that standard gauge steam has run in the San Luis Valley. It will run between La Veta and Alamosa pulling the San Luis Express.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone! Remember our armed forces and the work they continue to do to keep us safe.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Georgetown Loop Delays Opening By Three Weeks

It's Memorial Day weekend, the traditional opening of the summer tourism season and one critical player is in critical condition. The Georgetown Loop Railroad is silent this Memorial Day 2007, a victim of its own management. Not even a diesel will be running. Why? How could this happen?

The origins of the current equipment troubles originate in 2004, but the property's owner, the Colorado Historical Society, bears at least some of the blame for the present condition. Wanting a veritable star on its rails, the CHS restored Colorado & Southern engine 9 to working order and ran it last season to the thrill of narrow gauge fans. Yet, No. 9 was forced to haul shortened trains alone on the steep grades. This contributed to premature wear and tear, sidelining the engine for most of this 2007 season. The Loop's other steam engine, No. 12, was expected near the start of the season, yet it was clear it would miss the opener due to repairs and weather delays. Back-up engine 1203, a diesel, is at Sumpter Valley and will not be back until mid-June either. What is left is lowly engine 21, a diesel kept in the shops as a rescue engine. Someone apparently thought it would be acceptable to use it as a service engine to make it through the first three weeks. Sadly, this engine has been deemed less than reliable for such use. Now the citizens of Georgetown find theirselves at opening day without an engine.

One can't help but recall that steaming narrow gauge engines are a short distance down Clear Creek in Golden, where engines that are the property of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc. are stored on the grounds of the Colorado Railroad Museum. More than capable, these engines have proven themselves on the very tracks that will lay silent this weekend. These engines and their rolling stock are the victims of a failed relationship between a former long-time operator and the state historical society. The belief in 2004 was that with enough capital and the right partner, the state historical society could have a successful go at the railroad. After looking at the breakdowns and other problems encountered since then, one can only guess at the wisdom today.

The real victims are the ones in Clear Creek county who depend on income paid by tourists from far and near, tourists who won't be coming this weekend or the next. After that, who can say? Engine 12 may be operational by then, but no amount of money will bring back lost time and lost wages. Clearly, the 2004 gamble by the Colorado Historical Society has not paid off for the citizens of Clear Creek county.

Media Coverage:

Monday, May 14, 2007

California Zephyr Bomb Scare

Media outlets are reporting that yesterday's eastbound Calfornia Zephyr (train #6) was evacuated after a passenger threatened the crew by saying he had a weapon and a bomb. Authorities searched the man and found a knife in his luggage. A bomb-sniffing dog alerted to the bag of the passenger and around 220 passengers were ordered to evacuate the train. They were bused to Denver Union Station where they eventually rejoined the same train and continued their trip to Chicago.

FBI officials are now stating that after extensive questioning of the man, it was all a misunderstanding and he was booked on a flight out of DIA today.

I don't know who should be ticked off more, the guy who was "detained and interrogated" for hours or the 220 passengers who were massively inconvenienced. The CZ has encountered more than it's share of delays lately courtesy of both BNSF and UP, but leaving at 4:45 a.m., over 9 hours 20 minutes behind schedule is probably a record, at least for the last week. I have ridden the Zephyr and every time it is at least 4 hours late into Denver from the west (UP territory) and 2 hours late coming in from the east (BNSF territory). This turns their schedule from a somewhat reliable estimate to an absolute joke. If you take Amtrak, you're not in a hurry, but you should at least be able to tell the party picking you up what day you'll arrive.

Could it get any worse?