V&T faces landmark decision today | NevadaAppeal.com

V&T faces landmark decision today

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

A railroad operator selected today by the Virginia & Truckee Railway commission will either make the future $40 million tourist track profitable, or steam it into bankruptcy, a railroad expert said Monday.

Two multimillion-dollar out-of-state rail operators and one small local railroad company will present their business proposals today to the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway.

The commission will hear plenty of promises, but it must select an operator with the passion and the cash, said Dan Ranger, executive director of the Tourist Railway Association Inc., an international organization for owners, fans, operators and vendors.

“There’s nothing worse than having an operator come in with great promises, but you have to be careful that they are able to do what they said they want to do,” he said.

The public board, which is rebuilding the historic right-of-way between Virginia City and Carson City, is expected to pick one of the operators at today’s five-hour-long meeting then continue further negotiations, said Kevin Ray, project coordinator. The 18-mile V&T is being reconstructed using private funds and taxes.

“The commission will have a Q&A with each company, and then the commission will choose which company they want to negotiate with to set a contract to operate the final project,” he said.

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Ray said this is a landmark event for which area rail enthusiasts have been waiting 30 years.

In his 50 years in the industry, Ranger has seen many railways fail because the train-loving operator is not good at business. His 240-member organization is based in Chama, N.M., north of Santa Fe.

“You’re in it to make a profit, you’re a business,” Ranger said. “There are folks out there who go into this with a misguided view of what’s possible and what’s not possible because they so badly want to do this. They ignore the key factors that will make it or not make it.”

Ranger said the commission should make sure that it doesn’t tack too many burdensome conditions on the contractor, such as obligating it to pay for all the liability insurance, the advertising and the equipment maintenance.

The chosen contractor will have an impressive tourist attraction, he said.

Of those vying for the contract, Ranger said American Heritage Railways and Sierra Railroad are successfully run by smart business teams. Both are members of the association, along with the V&T Railroad, owned by Bob Gray. It has operated for 30 years and knows the market, he said.

“The new V&T is kind of an odd duck because there’s not many new tourist railroads from the ground up being built. It’s a wonderful venture.”

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

If you go

What: V&T special commission meeting

Why: The board will select a train operator for contract negotiations; each of the three applicants will spend an hour presenting their business plan

When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. today

Where: The Nevada Association of Counties building, 201 S. Roop St., second-floor conference center

The applicants:

• Sierra Railroad Co. – In addition to freight, the Northern California company operates three tourism trains, including the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train in Oakdale.

• American Heritage Railways – The Durango, Colo., company operates two tourism trains, including The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

• Virginia & Truckee Railroad Co. – A family-owned and operated railroad in Virginia City.