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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Friday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


New Old Passenger Cars
27 April 2007

 

The museum has received a donation of two railroad passenger cars and recently the cars were delivered to us in Ely. These cars are ex-Ontario Northland (ON) cars and ran in passenger service in Canada. I don't have the complete history of the cars, but after they left the ON, they wound up on a tourist railroad in Ohio. The tourist railroad went bankrupt and needed to liquidate the cars. A former board member purchased the cars for us. He purchased the cars, but it was the museum's responsibility to transport the cars to Ely and this was a challenge.

Getting the cars here would turn out to be a monumental undertaking. First, we needed to get the cars ready to move from Ohio to Nevada. The cars needed to be inspected and meet all FRA and AAR rules and regulations. And this had to be done from afar depending on contractors. And of course, funds were incredibly tight. Where we were gifted the cars it was our responsibility to get the cars to Ely. Estimates for getting the cars here ranged up to $50,000. The big expense would be getting the cars from the railroad track to Ely because the Nevada Northern track was not in service from Shafter to Ely.

Without a rail connection, the cars had to come to Ely via truck. This is a shame because to get to Utah they went by rail. I understand that at one time they hit 79 mph crossing Wyoming.
Half of the car is now on the track with the other end being lifted off the road dolly. Once the dolly is cleared, the second railroad truck will be rolled under the car and the car lowered.
No worse for wear, the car is now on home rails being pulled out of the way so the second car can be unloaded. The first car is being gone through and will be painted and released for excursion service.


So why did the museum need to spend money on more passenger cars when most of our trains don't sell out and we have plenty of other pressing projects? Two reasons. First, historic coach 5 is now in service and it had been used for excursion train service in the past. But its time as an excursion car is over. At 125 years old, this wooden car is not suitable for daily passenger service. Our excursion schedule has mushroomed where in some months we do operate daily trains. Every time coach 5 goes out, you can hear the wood being stressed; the car creaks and groans as it goes down the road. So now, the car is reserved for special events and functions and we use it maybe only eight times a year.

Secondly, our existing coaches have a dirty little secret. The couplers between the cars are not normal couplers. They are electric interurban couplers, which will not couple to the couplers on any of our other equipment. To make matters worse, these cars a semi-permanently coupled together. So if one car goes down, they both go down. And there is a FRA rule that states for a passenger train to leave its home terminal 100% of the air brakes will function before departure. We had a Polar Express train last year that was about 50% sold out. The crew was doing its customary brake check and the air brakes on one car would not set up. We did everything. We used all of our tricks and nothing was working. The train could not leave without all of the air brakes working. There was no quick way to separate the cars and send only one car. Our only option was to either get the air brakes to work or issue refunds. Luckily, at the last minute, all of the air brakes did set up and then it was off to the North Pole.

During the summer season, every Saturday night the railroad offers a specialty train. Since we don't have dining cars, the excursion coaches magically transform into dining cars. (Well not magically, it's the combined efforts of three or four sweaty individuals.) Then in the morning, the reverse happens. The tables come down and the seats go back in place and voilà, you have an excursion coach. Needless to say, this is a lot of work that needs to be done every Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. With the new coaches, we can leave the current coaches set up as dining cars and we do not need to go through the transformation every weekend.

The short version is if the existing coaches ever went out of service the railroad would be without a way of carrying passengers. And if the excursions were to go down, then the museum would take a sizeable hit in revenue.

Then looking towards the future, our most popular trains do sell out. Now we are able to add coaches to these popular trains, which allow us to carry more people that generate additional revenue per trip. Our overall goal is to maximize revenue per trip be it either by carrying more passengers per train or using less cars per train. These new cars will allow us to use only one passenger coach for lighter trains rather than hauling two coaches as we currently do. And of course, you never want to look a gift horse in the mouth.

So now, we have doubled out excursion fleet. We'll be able to set up the dining cars and leave them, use the excursion cars as needed, and save our historic cars for very special occasions.

The newer cars are newer than our current coaches are by about thirty years. Once the tracks do open up to Shafter, these coaches could head out on the Union Pacific Railroad. They came in that way. The cars went by rail from Ohio to Ogden, Utah. From Ogden to Ely they came by truck. Now they're back on the rails and we're getting the first car ready for excursion service. This will only make our future brighter.

 

 

 

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