Operating option for V&T sparks controversy
Appeal Staff Writer
The state commission in charge of building the reconstructed V&T Railway should be ready to run the railroad if a private operator backs out, some commission members say.
But the commission is not qualified to run a train, other members say, and should focus on finishing the 18-mile railroad from Virginia City to Carson City.
An operations committee that was created this week will work to buy railroad equipment and develop a plan for the commission to operate the train if it has to, said Commissioner John Tyson.
“We’re in the railroad business whether we like it or not as long as we have one dime of taxpayer money,” he said.
Tyson acknowledged that he himself would like the commission to manage train operations, but said the committee itself is only proposing this idea in case of an emergency.
The commission picked Oakdale, Calif.-based Sierra Railroad from applicants in 2006 to run the train but does not have an agreement with the company.
Commission Chairman Bob Hadfield said the commission needs the experience of a company like this to run the train and called the committee “totally inappropriate,” especially when the vote was taken while three of the nine members, including him, were gone.
The work of the commission should be to finish the railroad and raise the money to do it, he said, adding that it is far too early for a commission unqualified to run a train to think about a back-up plan where it itself would operate the train and spend public money to do so.
Workers finished about a mile and a half of track from Gold Hill to the Overman Pit in 2005. They have started on about 4.5 miles from American Flat in Storey County to Mound House in Lyon County, which is expected to be done in August.
The entire $55 million project is scheduled to be done in 2011.
This is work the commission needs to finish, Commissioner and Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira said, and the creation of the committee in light of this is “short-sighted” and “a waste of time.”
“I think we’ve already been down this road,” he said.
But the commission has the responsibility not to put itself in a position where “you have a railroad with nothing to run on it,” said Commissioner Ron Allen.
The commission has a $420,000 steam engine as well as five train cars that have cost about $55,000. A report last year by Sierra Railroad said it could cost between $250,000 and $300,000 per car to get them ready for use.
The state act that created the V&T commission doesn’t say that the commission can’t manage operations, Commission Attorney Mike Rowe said, but “I don’t think it was intended by the act to have the commission run (the train).”
The commission should have some oversight over the company that runs the train, he said, but only relatively recently has anyone suggested the commission should for any reason manage the operations of the train.
The plan, however, is something a committee should at least investigate, said Commissioner Larry McPherson.
“I can’t see giving a private company profits off this,” he said. “It would seem they would have a stranglehold on us.”
• Contact reporter Dave Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.