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.

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