Could the V&T Railway stop in Gold Hill?
Appeal Staff Writer
Concerned that the $40 million tourist railway may not make it up to Virginia City, the state commission in charge of the reconstruction plans to lease land in Gold Hill for future parking and a tourist staging area.
Virginia & Truckee Railway commissioners said Tuesday that the land lease agreement is necessary in case they can’t hammer out a sale or lease agreement with the owners of two miles of existing railroad between Gold Hill and Virginia City by the time the train is ready to run in 2010.
“We have to have an area to terminate (the train ride) in case we have a problem getting up to Virginia City,” said Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira, who also sits on the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway.
Passengers could then be bused down the mountain or up to Virginia City if needed.
He said there could also be problems with operating the commission’s $420,000 locomotive on the track up to Virginia City, which includes one extreme 22-degree curve and tunnels that would have to be reconstructed at high costs.
Tom Gray, co-owner of the V&T Railroad, said Tuesday he is concerned that this could mean trouble for his business, which has operated in Virginia City for 30 years. His father rebuilt the track from Virginia City to Gold Hill in the 1970s.
“If they take buses into Virginia City they’ll miss the most scenic part of the railroad, the tunnels and the mines and mills that made the Comstock famous,” he said.
The family has anticipated hooking up with the 16 miles of track to Carson City that is being reconstructed by the commission using public and private funds.
The commission plans to lease two small parcels of land adjacent to the Gold Hill Depot owned by Virginia City businessman Joe Curtis. Once signed, the 20-year lease will cost the commission $720,000.
“I am heavily in support of the completion of the railroad and I felt that was the best use of the land to support the progress of the project,” Curtis said.
Commissioner John Tyson said he’s not in favor of leasing the land in Gold Hill because he believes it would be smarter to purchase the track from the Grays and make the improvements to get the train up to the historic mining town. He expects the track to cost up to $5 million before improvements.
Commissioner Janice Ayres remembers a few years back when the Grays were looking for buyers. She said at that time the price was high and the commission wasn’t able to afford it.
The situation may be different now that the completion date nears. Tyson said if the price isn’t right the commission can always wait the Grays out.
“We’ll run trains to Gold Hill if we have to until that changes,” he said.
That’s what’s worrying Gray.
Gray worries that ending the new track in Gold Hill and busing tourists up to Virginia City could put them out of business. But would he sell? Gray is unwilling to state outright if he would, only alluding that the commission could buy it “if they wanted to.”
Commissioner Ayres said leasing the land was a critical decision that the board had to make – or risk losing access to the Gold Hill Depot.
“We’re covering all our bets here because if we can’t work something out with the Grays, we’re in a pickle,” she said.
If everything works out with the Grays, and there is no need to load or unload passengers at Gold Hill, then the commission will at least have the use of valuable right-of-way right between the depot and state route 342, she said.
It’s still early on in the project. Right-of-way for the entire length down to Carson City is still being acquired and only 1.4 miles of track have been reconstructed. The role the Grays could play is still unknown.
The commission is seeking a qualified rail operator, but Ayres said it has set the bar high. An operator is expected to be chosen by the end of the year. A consultant involved with the project said about six national rail operators are interested.
Gray also isn’t willing to say if his company is going to apply.
“I would love for the commission to ask me, ‘What do you need to run the railroad successfully?'” he said.
“I don’t think they want us to do it. I think it would be a fight.”
The commission has said what it wants in an operator: capital to invest in the maintenance fund and experience operating a tourist railroad.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.