The state commission in charge of the reconstruction of the Virginia & Truckee Railway will decide Monday whether to conduct a nationwide search for a rail operator, bringing a close to the debate on who will operate the tourist railway on the historic Comstock right-of-way.
Many board members have favored contracting the operation out to an experienced rail operator; one that may operate a railroad in another state already. Other V&T supporters advocate for the operation to stay local, where it's been for the 30 years that the project has been in the works.
Bob Hadfield, chairman of the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway, said Friday that it recently became clear to the board that it had to find out who's interested in operating the railroad. He said the project is going to cost more than $40 million, most of it public money, so the operator should be professional.
"If we're going to use an independent operator, we need to bring them into the process soon," he said. "They could have valuable input as to the necessary facilities that might be required to accommodate a successful tourism railroad operation."
The commission has tentative plans for railroad yards, shops and a depot. Hadfield said it's important to get an operator on board now, before the railroad gets so far down the line that they have to correct mistakes. The commission will consider a contract with Stone Consulting & Design to assist in drafting the request for bid proposals.
"We're still building the railroad and we still have time to accommodate minor changes," Hadfield said.
The board recently purchased five 1923 Harriman Suburban Coaches for $23,500 to run on the V&T. The commission must determine how these cars will fit into the operation of a successful tourism railroad. Hadfield said it would've been nice to have an operator's advice on this purchase.
"They were a good deal," he said. "It was not in my mind a bad investment, but it points to the complexity of building a railroad and the timing of getting it up and running. I believe as soon as we get the facility completed, the public has an expectation that the train will be operating very soon thereafter."
V&T Commissioner Ron Allen said the 80-foot-long steel cars fit 93 passengers each. He said the refurbishment on each car could cost about $10,000 each. It has not yet been determined who will refurbish the cars. The cars were used in commuter passenger service on the San Francisco Peninsula.
The coaches are coming from the Golden Gate Railroad Museum at Hunters Point Naval Base in San Francisco. The museum's lease was recently canceled by the Navy, which led to the sale of some artifacts, such as the passenger cars. The sale closed Nov. 4.
Another purchase is being considered by the board, but Allen declined to give any more information on it. The operations committee is also considering buying a second steam locomotive.
"They became available and there's not a lot of this kind of equipment out there for sale," Allen said. "When it does, you have to jump on it."
The chairman said the railroad will only have one chance at attracting ridership. Passengers will either tell their friends that the V&T is a must-see attraction, or that it's a rip-off. Hadfield said he would rather have the ridership.
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.