V&T operator must have experience, consultant says | NevadaAppeal.com

V&T operator must have experience, consultant says

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

The commission reconstructing the Virginia & Truckee Railway is looking for a rail operator that has experience in operating historic equipment on a project geared toward a new generation of train lovers.

Randall Gustafson, a consultant working on the operator selection, said Monday that he believes up to six qualified national rail operators will apply to operate this “unique railway.”

“The first thing they are going to need is experience,” said Gustafson, vice-president of operation for Stone Consulting & Design. “We’re looking at a technology that’s at least 100 years old, and the only way to understand the risk and safe operation is to have a working experience with it.”

He calls the V&T unique because the commission is reconstructing the historic right-of-way financed with public and private funds. An operator would not have to come in and pay off the construction debt, which happens in many new rail projects.

The commission wants an operator to invest in the long-term maintenance fund for care of equipment. For this reason, Gustafson is expecting only serious investors to apply for the job.

“The commission is looking for reinvestment and investment, rather than a profit,” he said.

Profit splitting has not yet been determined – but the commission is asking operators to describe what they can do with income generated above operating expenses. Gustafson said he has seen operators come up with creative ideas.

Operators have until Aug. 21 to submit their qualifications to the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway. Gustafson said this process is meant to winnow out those who are not serious about operating the $40 million tourist track.

At a Sept. 11 commission meeting, the board will decide which operators are eligible to submit a full proposal and business plan, which is due in October.

“I know that all the commissioners are anxious to get the process well under way,” said commission attorney Mike Rowe. “They’d like to have the operator selected by the end of the year so we can start to collaborate on improvements that will be built as part of the reconstruction.”

Improvements would include the Carson City depot and possibly a pull-off and water tower at the historic Scales site between Silver City and Gold Hill.

Project engineer Ken Dorr said there is a provision within the request for proposals, which went out in July, by which operators could have the train running before 2010.

The operator could have a train running if it wanted to finance the construction of an interim depot before the permanent Carson City depot is completed.

Railway Commissioner Ron Allen said he’s looking for an operator with a good track record.

“Whoever the operators are on the short list, they are going to have to put together a business plan, and that will show their capability and their past history and what they can afford to do,” he said.

Applications are due to the commission by Aug. 21. For information, go to http://www.stoneconsulting.com/new.html. A project map and conceptual depot design can also be found at the Web site.

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

About the Virginia & Truckee Railway reconstruction project:

• The Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway is rebuilding the 18-mile tourist track on the historic, Comstock-era right-of-way between Gold Hill and Carson City. The train will use existing track to take it up to Virginia City.

• The project is expected to cost $40 million, which is funded by private and public money. The commission is lacking about $8 million to build depots and acquire all the land needed.

• Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau has contributed about $6 million in room tax revenue and other donations. The city increased sales tax by an eighth of a cent to bond $15 million for the project over 20 years.

• Operation is expected to begin in 2010 with an experienced rail company. Commissioners will have all the applications from interested companies by Aug. 21.

• So far, 1.4 miles of track from the Gold Hill Depot in Storey County to American Flat in Storey County has been completed.

• The V&T originated in 1870 as the supply line to the silver strike in Virginia City. It transported passengers, property, goods and lumber to support the mines. The Virginia City line was abandoned in 1938 because of the decline in the mining industry. The line from Carson City to Virginia City was pulled up in 1941.

• The commission purchased the McCloud No. 18 locomotive for $420,000 early last year from the McCloud Railway Co., which operated near Mount Shasta in Northern California. The locomotive is in storage there until the commission is ready to move it. The commission has also purchased five 1923 Southern Pacific Harriman suburban coaches for $25,500.

• Tourists waiting to ride the reconstructed Virginia & Truckee Railway will someday climb aboard the train at a depot in east Carson City off Drako Way and Highway 50 East. The commission purchased the parcel, on the south side of Highway 50 East, for $1.4 million.