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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

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

 


Trains & Taxes
19 October 2002


At their last meeting, the White Pine County Commissioners voted to raise the room tax in White Pine County by 2%. At an upcoming Ely City Council meeting the City Council will decide the same issue. This 2% room tax will go to the White Pine Historic Railroad Foundation to support the Nevada Northern Railroad Museum.

As a taxpayer and a small business owner, I donít like to see any tax raised. But as a taxpayer and a small business owner this is about the only type of tax increase I would support. Why?

For the most part this tax will not impact the citizens of Ely. It will impact the visitors to Ely. (Think of it as new way of mining.) On a $60 room it would cost our visitor $1.20. On a $30 room the cost is 60¢. This money is then invested in the railroad to attract more visitors. The more visitors we attract the more money we can invest in the railroad.

Over the course of the past couple months, Iíve been outlining a vision for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. This vision requires investing millions of dollars in the Museum. Money is need for both of our steam locomotives. There is a third steam locomotive on the property, Locomotive 81. I would like to see this locomotive brought back to steam service. This would give the museum three steam locomotives. With three steam locomotives we could go to seven days a week operation with steam. Price tag, about $1,500,000.

 

On the flip side of the coin, what would daily operations mean to the community? Going from Memorial Day to Labor Day there would be ninety-eight operating days. Figure an average trainload of 60 passengers, which would be 5,880 passengers. Run two trains a day thatís 11,760. Run three trains a day and weíre at 17,640. Now double the numbers; assume an average train of 120 passengers. Thatís 11,760 passengers for one train a day, 23,520 passengers for two trains a day, and 35,280 with three trains a day. Add weekend trains in April, May, September and October and the passenger count could be from 15,000 passengers to 40,000 passengers in a season!

I know what youíre thinking, "Markís been sniffing the steam oil, again." Rest assured that the steam oil is in a nice safe place, but when the extended 2002 schedule ends in another couple of weeks our ridership could hit 7,000. That was on a 4 day a week schedule that was a mixture of steam and diesel trains. Seven days a week with steam would put the Museum within striking distance of 11,760 passengers in a season if not more.

In September, an international tour group came to Ely to photograph trains. They came because we have a steam locomotive in service. That one-day event meant $10,000 to the museum and $19,250 to the community.

 

Since as we all know Ely is many miles away from everywhere, most likely, half of those people would have to stay in Ely to ride the train. Thatís 5,880 people that need a room. Divide that in half, figuring husbands and wives would want to stay together thatís 2,940 room nights, not too bad. Of course sleeping is only one part of the equation; they would like to eat too. Thatís 5,880 meals and if they do breakfast and lunch thatís 11,760 meals. And before heading out of Ely if they are smart, they will fill up with gas and goodies for the road. Figure the people who spent the night spent $70 per person, thatís $411,600 being spent in the community. With the half that didnít spent the night; letís say they spent $40 during their visit thatís $235,200. That means in one-season passengers from the Nevada Northern would have spent almost $700,000 in the community, a pretty nice chunk of change.

In Virginia City, the V & T carries over 50,000 passengers in a season. And hidden away in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico there are two tourist railroads where each one carries over 50,000 passengers a season. And they are not near major metropolitan areas like we are.

In 2003, the schedule is increased to six days a week with three steam days, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. On Friday and Saturdays we have two trains a day running. We stand a good chance of hitting 10,000 passengers in 2003. If (and thereís a lot of them ifs). If Locomotive 93 doesnít go down for expensive repairs. If the 2003 tourist season is not disrupted. If the needed repairs to our passenger coaches doesnít balloon out of control. If we donít need expensive track repairs. And maybe the most important if of all: if the room tax is implemented in White Pine County and the City of Ely.

The museum is at a pivotal point in its history. We have the opportunity to blossom into the dream that has been part of the Museum since itís founding: that the Nevada Northern Railway would once again become an economic generator for Ely and White Pine County. The opportunity is almost within our gasp, the room tax money will get us that much closer.

The room tax money will stabilize our finances and let the Museum plan for the future. Right now we are working on developing a one, three and five year plans for the Museum. As these plans move forward, Iíll share them with you.

In 2006, the Centennial Year for the Nevada Northern Railway, when our ridership is inching its way up to 20,000 riders and you canít get seated at your favorite eatery because of all of those blankety-blank tourists, remember, you heard it here first.

 

 


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