Rail cars bought for V&T may only be worth their steel, contractor says

Five historic rail cars purchased for use on the reconstructed Virginia & Truckee Railway may never make it to the rails, an official connected to the project said Monday.

If the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway wants to use them, it'll cost a lot, said Robert Pinoli, vice president of tourist operations for Sierra Railroad, the contractor chosen to operate the railway when it's completed in 2010.

"If we took the cars in the condition they're in today, we're looking at a $250,000 to $300,000 cost per car to get them ready," he said after the afternoon commission meeting.

Commissioners purchased the cars for $25,500 from the Golden Gate Railroad Museum at Hunters Point Naval Base in San Francisco. It cost another $29,000 to bring the cars up to Portola, Calif., for storage. With $54,500 total invested into the cars, commissioners were optimistic that they'd be able to use them on the rail line. Some still feel that way, even after hearing Pinoli's report.

"I don't want to disagree with Sierra Railroad, but I really believe, if nothing else, components of the cars can be used to build new cars," said Commissioner Ron Allen, who pushed for the commission to purchase the cars in late 2005.

Pinoli said there could be compatibility issues with fitting 1920s equipment with more modern steel. The cost goes up because workers would have to remove asbestos and repair almost every component of the 1923 Southern Pacific Harriman suburban coaches.

"From a distance, they look great," said Pinoli, who has restored rail cars in his 15 years in the business. "But up close, you start seeing visible signs of wear, decay and aging."

Commissioner John Tyson said he'd like to see investors come forward and fund the restoration.

The $40 million project will carry tourists 18 miles between Carson City and Virginia City on the historic Comstock-era right-of-way. The project is funded by state grants, private donations and revenue from room and sales taxes in Carson City and Storey County.

Pinoli said it would be cheaper to let Sierra Railroad construct rail cars for about $175,000 each. Pinoli said the cars would be financed by the company and used on the V&T line, but they would be the property of Sierra Railroad.

One of the goals of the commission was to build up its own rolling stock.

Pinoli said the commission could resell the cars to another tourist line or scrap them to make up the cost.

The commission will discuss the rail cars at its Feb. 5 meeting.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

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