Douglas and Carson movers and shakers to build a railroad | NevadaAppeal.com

Douglas and Carson movers and shakers to build a railroad

by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer

Minden industrialist Don Bently has joined with other Douglas County and Carson City business people and officials to build a railroad.

The first phase of the route would extend north, from Minden to Carson City and Reno.

Incorporated in November under the name V&T Operating Co., the group hopes to raise $100 million for the project’s first phase through the sale of stock. Plans for the route call for it to accommodate tourist, freight and commuter traffic.

Don Miner, Douglas County commissioner and member of the investment company’s committee, said engineering for the line has not started and the $100 million figure is an estimate.

Miner said the concept started years ago, but Gov. Kenny Guinn’s addition of Washoe and Douglas Counties to the Northern Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway provided more impetus. Originally made up of Carson City, Storey and Lyon counties, the commission grew to include the other two counties in late 2001.

“We are moving quickly,” Miner said. “Acquiring the rights-of-way is fairly easy, because we have few parcel owners to deal with. Once they’re acquired, it will be much easier to raise significant amounts of money.”

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In addition to completing the route to Carson City and Reno, the V&T Operating Co. wants to one day extend the line south to Yerington, Hawthorne, Bishop, Calif., and Lone Pine, Calif.

Committee members from the newly formed organization will meet with an expert concerning the initial public stock offering in January. It is hoped that the offering will be made during the first six months of 2003, according to Miner.

Shares will cost $1,000 for voting stock and $100 for a nonvoting share.

Dwight Millard, chairman of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of the operating company, said the train will provide a major draw for the whole area.

“The hard part of tourism is creating a reason for people to come,” he said. “The history of the area and the golf courses are two sales points, but when the V&T line is completed, it will become a draw second only to Lake Tahoe.”

No time line has been set, but once the route from Minden to Carson City is completed, it will connect with the original V&T route, to Virginia City.

A separate project, the Nevada Commission to Reconstruct the V&T Railway is dedicated to completing the 17-mile stretch of rail line, the link between Virginia City and Carson City.

The project has been ongoing since 1991 and funding a project of this size and scope has always been a major stumbling block. Officials seem to agree at this point that funding the two projects at the same time will not conflict.

Janice Ayres, spokeswoman for the state commission and longtime supporter of the Virginia City to Carson City project, said the segment is critical to the success of the project and she wants to see it completed first.

“As a corporation, they’re going for the issuance of stocks. We’re going for state and federal dollars,” Ayres said. “We conduct fund-raisers, but they won’t be doing special events.

“We are separate entities on the same page,” she said. “We want to get that railroad built from Gold Hill to Carson City, and if they can enhance the project, so much the better.”

Mayor Ray Masayko, another state commission member, called the new project ambitious. He said he wishes the project well and urges cooperation between the two entities.

“The inclusion of our project is an option we will be willing to discuss any time,” he said.

As an act of good faith, the newly-formed corporation will match the first $10 million made through fund-raising by the commission. The money will support completion of that line to Virginia City, said Hap Fisher, vice president of the new corporation.

Bob Gray owns a small stretch of Virginia & Truckee Railroad line and operates a tourist train from Virginia City to Gold Hill. It is the only part of the route that is completed.

Gray said he has not been contacted by the operating company and declined to comment, saying he didn’t know enough about the project.

In business since 1976, Gray said the line carries about 60,000 passengers annually.

“The line has done pretty well, but it’s not a money maker,” he said. “A steam locomotive is expensive to operate and there are a lot of problems.”

Few if any rail lines are profitable, but the V&T Operating Co. hopes to ensure its bottom line by offering three types of service. Morning and evening service will be dedicated to commuters, daytime travel to tourism and, at night, the line could be used for freight. Separate cars will be purchased for each use, according to Miner.

“There is a need. We’ll be bringing in a greater tourist attraction, along with a freight component that we haven’t had for 50 years,” he said. “I think it’s difficult to get people out of their cars, but if we provide a convenient alternative, build it and run it right, they will come. This railroad won’t need a subsidy.”

As an energy-saving move, the company will be looking at alternative fuels for their restored tourist engines, primarily renewable nonfossil fuels. Nothing, Miner said, is being discounted at this point.

“We have a lot of brains in on this deal and a lot of ideas to be tested,” he said.

Officials for the project are working with others in the tourist railway industry, like the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge that runs between those towns in Colorado and the project is getting support from Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Miner said.

“A tremendous number of people have expressed interest and they all have a passion to see this project completed,” Miner said. “No one is salaried. They’re here because they love the project. It’s ambitious but attainable.”

Members of the investment company’s committee include Bently, Fisher, Miner, Millard, Carson Valley developer Doug Hone, Carson City developer John Serpa, Carson City banker Susan Hon and Bob Hadfield, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

Douglas County manager Dan Holler, assistant county director of administrative services Michael Brown and Ayres are serving as advisers.

BREAKOUT:

Brief history of the V&T

Constructed by private investors to facilitate the movement of ore to the processing mills in the Carson River Canyon, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad was completed in 1872. It supplied the Virginia City mines with materials and transported ore to the mills in the valleys below.

The line extended to Gardnerville in the early 1900’s, after the fortunes of the Comstock faded, with the idea that it would ultimately connect with points south.

Service between Virginia City and Carson City ended during the Depression, in 1938 when the line developed serious cash flow problems. Another blow came during WWII, when the rails between the Comstock and Carson City were torn up to aid the scrap drives.

The struggle ended on May 31, 1950, when the V&T made its final run between Reno, Carson City, and Gardnerville.