Off-roaders make their mark on new V&T rail bed

Off-roaders gunning their engines up the rail bed of the reconstructed Virginia & Truckee Railway are damaging what it took two months to build and a decade to finance.

V&T Commissioner John Tyson, who lives in Virginia City about a mile from the track, said he walks the reconstructed section of right-of-way weekly on the lookout for all-terrain vehicles.

"When I was out there last on Sunday I counted six of them tearing the hell out of everything," he said.

The V&T commission is the government entity in charge of reconstructing the 18-mile tourist track along the historic right-of-way from Virginia City to Carson City. So far, 1.4 miles of the track has been completed between Gold Hill and American Flat at a cost of $5 million. That amount was raised from federal funds and private donations. For the last decade, supporters have raised funds to bring the locomotive steam whistle back into Carson City. The entire project is expected to cost up to $40 million.

With this much invested, it's no wonder the commission is touchy about the track.

At this week's meeting, Commissioner Ron Allen commented that those who run their bikes across the rail bed should be shot.

All jokes aside, the board could think of no cure for the wanton disregard of the local off-roaders.

"I don't know how to stop that," said Tyson, a Federal Railroad Administration-certified locomotive engineer for the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely. "You can't patrol the track 24 hours a day. You can't fence it off."

Project engineer Ken Dorr said the V&T right-of-way has never been fenced, and it wouldn't make any sense financially or otherwise to do it now.

Posting signs won't work either because Nevada law would require a sign every 200 feet.

"Those would just be targets," he said.

Off-roaders are driving on the road bed and up the 10-foot-wide section of ballast rock, the crushed and graded aggregate rock used as the bed for the rails. The vehicles are displacing the rock that contain the ties and rails.

"The decision was made that ballast displacement by the ATVs is a cost of doing business," Dorr said. "We're going to have to go in on a yearly basis and dress it up."

He could not estimate how much this will cost the commission. Road bed stabilization will be an annual line item on the budget because "it's the nature of the beast."

For example, the section of track spanning the Overman Pit has settled about two inches in a 100-foot length stretch. That doesn't mean the tourist train will keep sinking deeper and deeper into the old mining pit. A few strong backs and hand tools can be used to raise the track and add more ballast.

Dorr said this is how it's been done since the dawn of railroading.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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