The V&T Railway Commission on Monday was forced to face an issue members have been tiptoeing around for years - who will get to run the railroad.
The issue came up when Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira said one of the most important things he learned at this past weekend's tourist train convention in Chattanooga, Tenn., was the need to find and hire a professional operator within the year to provide expertise in completing the project.
"The consensus of everyone I talked to was that the V&T is a home run," he said. "And they told me we need to select an operator now, get them on board next year."
That raised eyebrows of several in attendance, including commission member John Tyson, who made it clear he and other longtime supporters of the project would feel unfairly cut out if an outside operator were brought in to run everything.
"There's a lot of people who have sweat equity in this. To have an operator come in here and take that over ..." he said, shaking his head in disapproval.
He said there are experts available in western Nevada to handle practically every aspect of the railroad and that those who have been involved for as long as 30 years should "reap the benefits."
He said the commission should consider hiring a professional general manager rather than an operator who would take over everything.
That raised a caution from Commission Chairman Bob Hadfield, who said he put an item on the agenda to discuss potential conflicts of interest just because of this situation.
"When this is completed, we have, obviously, some inherent tension between these people and the job we're doing," said Hadfield, former executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties. He reminded other members taxpayers are financing the railroad project.
But he also suggested there is nothing that says they can't put in a contract provision giving consideration for hiring locals to fill railroad jobs.
Teixeira agreed a number of longtime V&T supporters have a great emotional involvement with it.
"But I'm working with taxpayer dollars," he said. "I can't work with emotions."
He said the commission shouldn't run the railroad because "we'll screw it up."
Hadfield essentially backed that argument, saying government would be far less efficient in running the railroad than a private operator.
Teixeira said a group of locals could join the process and put in a bid to run the train if they wish but that the contract must go "to the operator who can perform the best."
At that point, Hadfield said the discussion should stop because it's not on the agenda. He said the subject should be set for a future meeting.
Commission member Janice Ayres said it should be a special meeting because "this is the most important issue we've discussed."
Teixeira said 18 operators expressed strong interest in the V&T at the Tennessee conference. He said he was impressed both with their knowledge of the train and their willingness to be a partner in the project. And by "be a partner," he made it clear that means the operator would contribute funding to buy rolling stock for the railroad so it too has a financial stake in the V&T's success.
No date was set for the meeting to discuss how to operate the train.
The money to lay tracks and build depots and other infrastructure has been put together, with the final piece being Carson City's eighth-cent sales tax increase approved last week. That tax will raise $15 million of the $34.2 million total construction cost.
When completed, the railroad will shuttle riders between Virginia City and Carson City and consultants say it should attract upwards of a quarter million tourists a year.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.