V&T chugs ahead toward uncertain future
November 19, 2008
The failure of a Carson City ballot question that would have raised $10 million for the V&T tourist railroad will delay the project’s completion by at least two years, but the public commission managing the construction could run train rides on the track that has been completed.
More than 60 percent of Carson City voters rejected a November election advisory question to raise sales taxes for the V&T project, which has raised $37 million of its $55 million expected cost. About $21 million has come from Carson City sales and room taxes.
Supporters of the ballot question said a tax increase was necessary to help move the project on time through the Carson River Canyon, one of the last and most scenic sections of the ride.
When completed, the 18-mile tourist railroad will run from Virginia City to Carson City. It is modeled after the original 19th-century track that grew out of the silver mining boom.
Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira, a member of the Nevada Commission for the V&T Railway, said completion of the track, originally projected to be around 2011, will be delayed until 2013 or 2014.
About six miles of track from Gold Hill to Mound House have been finished since construction started in 2005. Work has started on the next five-mile section that will take the track across a bridge on Highway 50 into Carson City.
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The best chance for more funding now is probably through grants from the federal government, which has given $12 million to the project, Teixeira said. It could be a year before that money materializes, he said.
Teixeira said it will be exciting to receive the funding that will take the railroad through the Carson River Canyon.
“Then you got a hell of a trip,” he said.
But until the money comes, the V&T commission should start rides once the current phase is done next summer, said Ron Allen, a member of the nine-member V&T commission made up of mostly state and county representatives.
Running rides on a partially completed track could help the commission raise private money by bringing attention to the project and giving it more credibility, he said.
“Maybe then they’ll see it’s a reality and not a dream anymore,” he said.
The ballot question’s failure will cause the commission to work harder on private fundraising, such as running the train on the shorter route, said John Tyson, a commission member.
“We’re not dead in the water,” he said.
If the commission does decide to run on the partially finished track, it could ask the V&T Railroad Company to operate the train from its Virginia City station to the end of the current phase at Highlands Drive south of Highway 50, said project engineer Ken Dorr.
The private V&T Railroad Company already runs 2.5-mile train rides from Virginia City to Gold Hill.
Riders would be bused from a depot at Drako Way in Carson City about two miles to where the track ends, Dorr said, because it would be too expensive to build a depot there.
The commission canceled an agreement last year that would have allowed the V&T Railroad Company to operate the finished railroad. The commission is also in negotiations to buy the company so it can build its own track between Virginia City and Gold Hill.
But it would be a “huge disappointment” for the Sierra Railroad Company, the business picked by the commission to operate the train on the finished track, if the railroad started operating before it was completely finished, said Robert Jason Pinoli, vice president of the company.
Pinoli said the business is planning to be the operator of the V&T and has heard nothing about the possibility of the V&T Railroad Company running the railroad, even temporarily.
“That is certainly not something that has been discussed with us,” he said.
Trying to raise money through private donations could also have problems, said Janice Ayres, president of the fundraising arm of the commission.
“The private sector says, ‘Why should the private sector give to a public project?'” she said.
The Northern Nevada Railway Foundation has raised about $500,000 through private donations, including the sale of V&T license plates, she said.
“It’s not going to come out of the private sector,” she said. “I’ve been at that 16 years.”
Jim Lohse, a critic of the V&T commission, said the project might be better run if it were taken over by a public department such as the Nevada Department of Transportation.
The commission could also raise more money if it worked harder and was more transparent to the public, he said, but even that might not be enough to finish and run the project.
“I’m not sure this railroad will run in the long term without a financial subsidy,” he said.
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at email@example.com or 881-1212.