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Carson City and the Next Generation

Last Monday the White Pine Legislative Coalition hit Carson City and the Nevada State Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Through the support of Mt Wheeler Power and the White Pine County School District, close to fifty residents were able to make the trip to Carson City. By 8:00 a.m., the entire contingent was seated in the committee room. The reason for the appearance of the group was that our Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea was to introduced Assembly Bills 180 and 181 to the committee.

To recap, Assembly Bill 180 is for the legislature to provide $500,000 for the purchase of the old Nevada Northern mainline from McGill Junction to Cobre. Assembly Bill 181 is for the legislature to provide $500,000 to the Foundation to fund the repairs to Locomotive 40 and the historic buildings. A couple of points need to be stressed. In AB 180, the community has raised and is working to raise $1.5 million to complete the purchase and renovation of the railroad. The $500,000 from the legislature is the last facet needed to complete the project. This appropriation will be on a 3 to 1 match, for every dollar contributed by the state the community has raised three. This is investment by the state will help insure our financial future. We have a local customer who needs rail service to survive. Rail service would keep 100 high paying jobs in Nevada and create another 150 to 200 new jobs with projects that are on board.

AB 181 is for $500,000 for the repair of Locomotive 40 and the historic buildings that make up the complex. Again, this community with a depressed economy has stepped up to the plate. We have raised and spent $300,000 to bring Locomotive 93 into compliance with federally mandated regulations. We have also raised and spent another $600,000 to maintain the rest of the rolling stock, other locomotives, track, and buildings.

The squeeze the railroad finds itself in is that last season over 70% of our passengers rode behind steam locomotive 93. Yet 93 powered less than 30% of our trips. If this 94-year-old locomotive should fail, we have no backup. With no steam locomotive, our ridership would plummet and our revenues along with it. This would create a devastating spiral for the museum.

To deliver this message, the committee allowed testimony from Paul Johnson who came prepared with a power point presentation. Karen Rajala also testified. John Tyson, others and myself provided supporting roles in testimony.

But I believe two students from White Pine High School, Terrill Trask and Ray Rivera, provided the most powerful testimony. Their testimony reflected a point of view that is critical to rural Nevada. These ambitious, intelligent high school students told the committee that they were both college bound, and once they graduated from college they would not be returning to rural Nevada because of the lack of jobs. This brain drain will have severe repercussions for the future of rural Nevada.

I would like to quote from their testimony, first from Ray Rivera.

  • 23% of job opportunities in our White Pine County have been lost since the closure of several mines in 1999.
  • 20% projected job loss is expected in the White Pine County School District if enrollment numbers continue to decrease.
  • 1 in 4 students have left our district because of the loss of jobs for our parents.
    With the increased amount of jobs from this purchase these tracks increase revenue, and increase population numbers would help our county obtain funding.
  • It would be nice to see some improvement so that we could continue with the way of life that we have now and improve instead of continue to decline.

Terrill Trask’s comments continue in the same vein but from a different point of view.

  • Job opportunities for returning graduated college students.
  • From the end of my middle school career to the beginning of sophomore year, the class size has dropped from above 140 students to now just above 100 students. For the whole school, there is a 23% loss.
  • AB 180 benefits returning students that have families and would like a strong educational program.
  • We have lost more than one business to the fact that transporting goods is too expensive.
  • After going to college at UNLV and with the appreciated support from the millennium scholarship, I would like to come back to White Pine County. This can only happen for me if there is an efficient number of jobs.

Growing up, I never worried if there would be a job for myself when I graduated. It is beyond my experience to have such a worry. But looking at the community and the job market, I can fully understand Mr. Rivera’s and Mr. Trask’s concerns.

Can the purchase of the railroad track and the restoration of Locomotive 40 answer the concerns of Mr. Rivera and Mr. Trask? Maybe just maybe. There is no guarantee, but the purchase of the track will stabilize one existing industry in White Pine County. There is a better chance; we can bring businesses to White Pine County that can provide a sizeable number of jobs with the railroad than without. That track gives the community a fighting chance.

And what of Locomotive 40, how does this figure into the economic picture? Our centennial is fast approaching. With two Federal Railroad Administration compliant locomotives, we can go to a seven-day a week steam schedule. What does this mean? Ridership. Within a 300-mile radius, we have over 3,500,000 possible passengers. Go out another 150 miles and the number balloons to over 20,000,000 possible passengers.

Other tourist railroads in areas more remote than Ely carry any where from 50,000 to 200,000 passengers a season. Last year, we carried only 7,200. We have a long ways to go to reach 50,000, but we can if we start now. The two bills before the legislature are White Pine County’s best chance of growing the economic future of the community.

With this economic growth, maybe the Class of 2006 will not have to worry about graduating and leaving, but graduating and worrying about which career field offers them the best future.

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