Georgetown Loop Railroad, Incorporated
For 32-years-Railroad run safely with passion and expertise
2004 drew 132,000 passengers to Colorado
Much has changed since 2004
The Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc., a Colorado Corporation, ran historic steam trains on the Georgetown Loop Railroad for the Colorado Historical Society, for a period of 32-years, until October, 2004. The railroad prided itself on its attention to safety, steam, guest service, and an appreciation for Colorado railroad history and tourism. During our 32-years, we missed one day of operating trains. That is a tribute to the employees with a passion for railroading.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad, Incorporated attempted to renegotiate another long-term contract with the CHS. However, the final offer made by the CHS for an increase in fee, higher liability limits and a shortened operating term, would have ultimately forced our company into bankruptcy. The CHS then went through a formal RFP process of which the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc. chose not to respond to the request.
What's happened since then?
Since we left the Loop in 2004, we moved all of our steam equipment to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, as well as to our railroad in Canon City – The Royal Gorge Route Railroad. The State of Colorado chose a new operator (Railstar-A New York firm) to operate the Georgetown Loop and by many accounts (see articles below) has turned it into a much different operation. 2008 marked the first year in the history of the project in which steam engines never ran on the historic line. Passenger numbers have been reduced dramatically, the FRA now oversees the operation, and many passengers are turned away due to the fact that the trains are much smaller than before. In 2007, the railroad carried just over 51,000 passengers, missing almost 40-days of operations alone.
New direction for GLRR, Inc
We now own and operate the successful Royal Gorge Route
A combination of breathtaking scenery, delicious food & outstanding service
Since 2004, we've concentrate all efforts operating the Historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad, located in Canon City, Colorado. In 2007, we carried over 100,000 guests on our train and are on track to do the same in 2008. We invite you to visit us and enjoy this spectacular standard gauge railroad that traverses the Royal Gorge.
Historic Steam Train Equipment Available for Lease
The Georgetown Loop Railroad, Incorporated is now offering operating steam engines, railcars and the expertise required to run a successful steam operation to interested parties. The same team of highly skilled individuals, along with capable historic equipment responsible for building the Georgetown Loop Railroad into one of the nations most successful scenic steam train operations is looking for serious partners to build another world class scenic narrow gauge train line. While still at the helm of the Colorado Historical Society's Georgetown Loop project, GLRR, Inc. carried 134,000 passengers during its last year of operation in 2004. For 32-years, the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc. carried hundreds of thousands of passengers safely, meeting demand, without missing a beat. Expertise in marketing, promotion, railroad safety and training, train handling, ticketing, retail sales, and everything required to run a profitable steam train operation is available. If you are interested, please e-mail email@example.com (serious inquiries only please).
News Articles Covering the Georgetown Loop, Colorado Historical Society - Railstar
Feds to check out tourist train (Rocky Mountain News, July 14, 2005)
Agency to take a look at train derailment (Denver Post, July 15, 2005)
Georgetown tourist railroad deemed ‘good’ after repairs (Rocky Mountain News, July 16, 2005)
Georgetown Loop Railroad faces an uphill climb. New operator is struggling to meet passenger demand. (Rocky Mountain News, August 10, 2005)
Railroad fills sets, but fewer available (Denver Post, August 13, 2005)
Railroad Short on maintenance funds (Clear Creek Courant, February 1, 2006)
Mechanical problem forces Loop evacuation (Clear Creek Courant, August 9, 2006)
Loop service stops after backup engine fails (Clear Creek Courant, August 16, 2006)
Loop sees third train shutdown in four weeks (Clear Creek Courant, September 6, 2006)
Loop still “learning lessons” after second year (Clear Creek Courant, October 25, 2006)
Loop loses steam heading into big weekend; opening delayed (Clear Creek Courant, May 23, 2007)
Broken engine that can't: Repairs delay Georgetown Loop (Denver Post, May 24, 2007)
State Train Plagued By Mismanagement, Waste, Derailments (www.facethestate.com) June 6, 2007)
Georgetown lost more than a trusted operator (Clear Creek Courant, June 6, 2007)
Loop's troubled season ends; off-season work begins (Clear Creek Courant, November 7, 2007)
Feds will oversee The Loop - Railstar will have to report problems to railroad agency
(Clear Creek Courant, May 5, 2008)
Loop set to open Saturday with Diesel Engine (Clear Creek Courant, May 21, 2008)
Loop turns visitors away on Father's Day (Clear Creek Courant, June 19, 2008)
Loop's No. 12 Steam Engine Not on Track for DNC (Clear Creek Courant, August 20, 2008)
Feds to check out tourist train
By Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News
July 14, 2005
The Federal Railroad Administration will check the safety of the Georgetown Loop Railroad because of a recent derailment, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.
The mountain railroad, which shuttles summer tourists between Georgetown and Silver Plume, has not been subject to federal oversight because it is a narrow-gauge line that is not a link in the national railway system, said Warren Flatau, FRA spokesman.
"Heretofore, we have not exercised jurisdiction," Flatau said. "However, we are taking a look at the railroad in light of the concerns that have been raised since last weekend's derailment."
Details of the inspection have not been determined, he said.
On Friday afternoon, a diesel engine, traveling no more than 8 mph, slid off the track as it was pulling a steam locomotive and six loaded passenger cars around a curve on the climb to the Silver Plume depot, said Kathy Denzer, spokeswoman for the tourist attraction.
"To the passengers, it felt like a normal stop," Denzer said. "No jolting, no jerking, no injuries."
The steam locomotive then backed the cars, loaded with about 170 passengers, nearly three miles to the Georgetown station, she said.
The accident was "a minor derailment," said Rebecca Laurie, spokeswoman for the Colorado Historical Society.
The society owns the land and 3.1-mile railroad, while the train is in the first summer of operation by Railstar Corp.
Full service resumed Sunday after the corporation replaced about 20 deteriorated ties in the roadbed, said Ron Trottier, general manager of the Georgetown Loop.
Ties in the roadbed on the line's spectacular high bridges have been inspected separately, Trottier said.
The FRA regulates Colorado's other tourist trains because they are part of the national railway system, Flatau said.
Metro / region briefs
Denver Post Staff and Wire Reports
Agency to take a look at train derailment
An inspector from the Federal Railroad Administration is scheduled to visit the Georgetown Loop railroad today, a week after a minor derailment put the corkscrewing tourist line in the spotlight.
The federal agency typically does not inspect the narrow- gauge railroad, which is considered "insular" since it does not cross any highways and operates at low speeds, but the July 8 mishap attracted FRA attention, said spokesman Warren Flatau.
"The agency's custom and practice is to look into or follow all safety complaints. I don't think the word 'investigation' is necessarily appropriate here," he said.
Ron Trottier, the train's general manager, expected the agent to conduct a thorough inspection of the track, which was repaired after the derailment. Trottier he attributed the derailment to rotten ties not yet detected on the normal maintenance schedule.
The derailment, which caused no significant damage and resulted in no injuries, is the latest setback for the tourist line after its longtime operator was dumped by the Colorado Historical Society last fall and replaced by a New York firm, Railstar Corp.
Ridership this year is down 45 percent through June, according to figures submitted to the state this week, and Railstar has struggled to keep its lone steam engine running while it refurbishes a second one.
Merchants in Georgetown - where much of the summer economy is dependent on the train - remain hopeful for a turnaround in train traffic while they manage to tread water.
Georgetown tourist railroad deemed 'good' after repairs
By Joe Garner, Rocky Mountain News
July 16, 2005
The Georgetown Loop Railroad received a good evaluation from federal safety officials Friday, a week after an engine derailed while pulling a train packed with tourists.
"The general condition of this insular tourist railroad is good, and it is obvious that the management and employees are working hard to improve the condition more," Federal Railroad Administration chief inspector Mike Ramsey wrote in an inspection report, according to a news release by the Colorado Historical Society.
The society owns the park land at the historic site and the 3.1-mile, narrow-gauge mountain railroad, about 45 miles west of Denver.
It is being operated by Railstar Corp. this summer, the first summer that Railstar has been in charge.
The inspection was prompted by the July 8 derailment of the lead engine on an afternoon trip, although no passengers were injured.
A second engine backed the cars about three miles down the twisting roadbed to the depot.
Full service resumed two days later after Railstar replaced about 20 deteriorated ties in the roadbed.
The FRA considers the railroad "insular" because it is not connected to the national railway system, so the agency does not routinely inspect it.
By David Montero, Rocky Mountain News
August 10, 2005
Georgetown Loop Railroad faces an uphill climb
New operator is struggling to meet passenger demand
GEORGETOWN - Fred Cothard and his family saw the old locomotive muscling its way uphill last year next to Interstate 70, and he promised his children they would all get to ride it someday.
On Tuesday afternoon, in a cold spitting rain, he kept his word, thanks to the Indiana license plates on his vehicle and a sympathetic employee at the Georgetown Loop Railroad.
"We tried to get on the 12:10 p.m. train and it was sold out," Cothard said. "But a guy with the railroad saw the plates and pulled some strings to get us on the next one."
Not everyone is so lucky. Railstar, the New York-based company that is operating the historic 3.1-mile rail route between Georgetown and Silver Plume for the first time this year, has is facing heavy passenger loads.
So much so, in fact, that train rides are regularly sold-out and the company sometimes adds an additional trip late in the afternoon to accommodate the extra demand.
That inconvenience for some visitors has provided much of the ammunition for those who remain angry over last year's fight and eventual divorce between the Colorado Historical Society and Georgetown Railroad Loop Inc.
The main salvo fired by critics has been that Railstar is servicing far fewer passengers than Georgetown Railroad Loop Inc. did last year, with some reports showing a 40 percent decline when comparing June 2004 with June 2005.
But Railstar officials, and some merchants in historic Georgetown, argue that it's because the company is operating only one train and has fewer passenger cars than Georgetown Railroad Loop Inc. - which amassed several engines and more than a dozen cars over the course of its 32 years as chief operators of the route.
The hard numbers for July 2005 ridership will be released today, said Railstar spokeswoman Kathy Denzer. She wouldn't disclose if they were up or down, but said the company is doing well for having "to start from scratch."
Denzer said that when Railstar first took on the route, it had no engines and has been steadily working to increase its capacity to serve tourists. She said there are plans to have extra cars and trains running next season.
Some merchants in the historic portion of Georgetown hope that comes true.
Tom Wilson, owner of the Mountain Inn for the past eight years, said he thought Railstar "bit off more than they could chew" when taking over the route. And he worried early on when he heard reports the ridership on the trains was down compared to 2004.
But Wilson said that since then, "they're doing much better than I thought" and that he has taken a pragmatic approach to the new partnership between the city and Railstar. "We are in the same boat together," he said. "We need each other to thrive. That's just business."
Other merchants said that the overall decrease in riders hasn't affected business. The toughest obstacle Georgetown faced, said Eleanor Ceuleers, is the perception that the train isn't even running anymore.
Ceuleers, owner of The Little Shop, said that two weeks ago a person in Arvada told her it was "too bad" that the train wasn't running anymore. Ceuleers said she has regularly corrected people on that point, telling them that the train is, in fact, still hauling passengers.
Denver Post, Regional Briefs
Railroad fills seats, but fewer available
The Georgetown Loop Railroad attracted 20,657 riders in July, filling nearly every seat on the tourist line.
Ridership still lags significantly behind last year's figures, remaining an issue for merchants in Georgetown who depend on the train's tourist traffic.
Railstar Corp., which took over operation of the line after the Colorado Historical Society ended its contract with the previous management, has had to acquire rolling stock and has fewer passenger-car seats available.
Railroad short on maintenance funds
By Meghan Murphy – Clear Creek Courant
The lower-than-expected turnout at the Georgetown Loop Railroad last summer is causing budget shortfalls for winter maintenance.
The company, which began operating the Georgetown Loop Historic Railroad and Mining Park last summer, saw at least 15,000 fewer riders than expected, Ron Trottier, the general manager, said. The railroad sold 65,665 train tickets, according to the 2005 annual report, but Trottier planned for between 80,000 and 90,000 riders.
Required by the Colorado Historical Society, the annual report comprises discussions of the season overall, planned 2006 projects, revenue and expenses. In the report, Railstar notes that “the winter budget had to be trimmed so tight that we believe it will impact the ability to complete the necessary maintenance so that equipment is ready by the start of the season. This will call into question the reliability of the locomotive #12 throughout the season and the ability to have enough cars ready in time to meet peak season demand.”
Railstar attributes the rider shortfalls to several factors, including a rockslide that closed the highway in August and high gasoline prices. The report also said “the former operator was very effective in getting the message circulated far and wide that 2004 was the last year the Loop would ever operate.”
Lastly, the No. 9 steam locomotive, which the historical society said would be on the tracks by July, is still undergoing restoration. The engine would have provided a publicity boost and increased capacity, the report says.
KM Concessions, which operates the ticket office, reported total gross ticket sales of $991,150.09. A budget spreadsheet obtained by open records request puts the total expenses for the season at $1,193,230.73, a shortfall of $202,080.64.
Railstar, however, says the concessionaire’s sales did not account for some ticket sales and gift and food sales to the tune $50,683.81. Joseph Bell, of the historical society, said the company would be responsible for a thorough audit to revise the revenue results upward.
Either way, the railroad operated at a loss last season and expenses continued through the winter months. As part of their contract, Railstar is responsible for the maintenance of all of the equipment regardless of who owns it.
Trottier said the lower revenue didn’t create problems with paying bills on time, but some planned maintenance can’t be started until later this year. “We had to cut back on what we wanted to get an early start on last year,” he said.
When asked about the report’s statement questioning the reliability of the locomotive #12, Trottier denied the assertion. “We’ll never sacrifice reliability,” Trottier said.
Yet, Trottier’s signed the report, which "represents correct information to the best of my knowledge."
Trottier said that Railstar will begin maintenance in late March, which will provide enough time to make necessary repairs and ensure rider safety.
Railstar requested that for the 2006 budget, the historical society set aside $75,000 each month for four months to cover expenses. Bell said the state is considering the suggestion and the budget is under review. In addition, Bell said it was too late to acquire grant money for equipment maintenance, and the financing would be up to Railstar. While Railstar pays for maintenance and operations using ticket sales money, the state has purchased equipment and restored it using grant money.
Bell also said the annual report is "far more detailed” than any the state received from previous operators.
Mechanical problem forces Loop evacuation
By Meghan Murphy– Clear Creek Courant
A mechanical problem on the No. 12 steam engine Monday caused Railstar Corp. to stop service and evacuate passengers from the Georgetown Loop Railroad.
An original part on the 1928 engine failed, spokesman Tom Hill said. He said the parts are regularly tested, but no test is foolproof.
Passengers were taken back to the Devil’s Gate ticketing office in Georgetown by about 2 p.m. and offered refunds or exchanges for their rides. Many agreed to come back another day, Hill said.
The ticketing agents were also busy calling customers with reservations for the next two days to reschedule. Hill said it would be a day or two before the Loop is restored to partial service.
The maintenance crews were working on the engine where it broke down, just below the Lebanon Mine bridge. Since the cars were behind the engine, Hill said, workers would either need to move the No. 12 out of the way or take the cars downhill before restoring service.
Once the tracks are clear, Railstar will run the No. 21 diesel engine for a few days with six cars, and then for weekend service double-head the diesel with the No. 9, which made its debut on the tracks last Tuesday.
As for the 500 to 600 walk-in passengers each day, Hill said that staff will be present at each platform to direct customers to enjoy a day touring historic Georgetown and Silver Plume.
Loop service stops after backup engine fails
By Meghan Murphy– Clear Creek Courant
The Georgetown Loop Railroad ceased operations again last weekend after the backup diesel engine broke down.
The No. 12 steam engine broke an axle Aug. 7, forcing passengers to be evacuated in the middle of the track. The train stopped operations until last Wednesday and resumed using the No. 21 diesel.
Sunday afternoon, the diesel engine's traction motor stopped working, so the Loop was forced to stop offering rides once again, Railstar spokesman Tom Hill said.
Loop sees third train shutdown in four weeks
By Meghan Murphy– Clear Creek Courant
GEORGETOWN — The Georgetown Loop Railroad was off line again from Tuesday through Thursday last week, the third shutdown in August for Railstar Corp.
Last week, the only operable steam engine, the No. 9, was taken off the tracks for planned maintenance, Railstar spokesman Tom Hill said. The engine needed routine upkeep to ensure it can haul passengers for the rest of the season.
The operators had intended to run the No. 21 diesel during the scheduled maintenance, but it blew a traction motor on Aug. 13. Railstar had planned to repair the No. 21 by last week, but the Ohio company that shipped the new part sent an incorrect order, Hill said.
The No. 9 went back on line Friday to handle weekend traffic.
Mark Greksa, former manager of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, said that in 32 years, the previous operator had one day of stoppage.
Despite the seven days of stoppage and the smaller passenger hauling capacity of the No. 9 engine, Hill said he believes the operation still beat last year’s ticket sales. In addition, Railstar’s season will continue through the first week of October.
Hill also added that during the winter break, Railstar will perform long-term maintenance to ensure more consistent operations next season.
Loop still ‘learning lessons’ after second year
By Meghan Murphy – Clear Creek Courant
With a second year tucked under the tracks at the Georgetown Loop, some experts are looking at the operation run by the state historical society and Railstar Corp. and saying, “We told you so.”
But the operator says that with each new engine coming on line, and each restoration, it is learning lessons and doing its best to provide a safe and viable operation.
For 12 days this season, riders showed up to the Loop station only to find it closed and all of the engines in the shop. The operation also lost capacity, as some days only one engine was available and able to pull fewer than the usual number of cars. The No. 12 broke an axle, the No. 21 diesel blew out a motor box, and the No. 9, fresh on the tracks this year, needed to be taken down to work out first-season kinks.
Even before the Georgetown Loop operation changed hands two years ago, the railroad was a hot topic of discussion among locals and business owners. The railroad is a driving force for the town's tourist economy, bringing visitors and hundreds of thousands of dollars to local shops and restaurants.
When the former operator, Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc., and the Colorado Historical Society failed to renegotiate a contract, some questioned how the state could arrange a new operation in the short available time. But in about nine months, the society contracted with Railstar and procured a steam and diesel engine for the Loop. The group sweated countless hours to successfully show everyone the steam.
Yet the first two years haven't been without troubles, and some experts say the troubles are directly related to the operator's inexperience on a mountain railroad and the necessity of using engines poorly suited to the demanding tracks.
Railstar manager Ron Trottier says many of the problems are part of the operation's learning curve and the company is learning from those lessons. Despite the loss of days and capacity, the operator served 73,000 passengers, falling 2,000 short of the season goal but exceeding last year by 12 percent. This winter, the engines will undergo thorough maintenance, and changes are being made to the approach to restoring engines.
All these issues have cost the railroad in revenue and maintenance expenses. Now that the operation is state-owned, some of that money comes at the expense of taxpayers.
Inexperience or inevitability
An engineering feat of its time, the Georgetown Loop tracks twists up steep slopes challenging even the largest of narrow-gauge engines. Unfortunately for Railstar, the only steam trains available for its first two seasons were the relatively small Nos. 21 and 9.
With little raw power, the trains require expert firing and maximum effort to haul even four cars of passengers. This fact, along with inexperience among the crew, makes “overfiring” inevitable and increases maintenance costs, experts say.
Last spring, a former contractor criticized Railstar's techniques in driving the historic machines. John Braun of Mammoth Locomotive Works helped restore the No. 12 locomotive and worked as a mechanic during Railstar's first year of operation. In a letter written to the state boiler inspector in April, he criticized Railstar's use of the engine last season, saying, "I feel a fairly serious situation exists which could cause premature failure of the sheets or vessel."
Braun said the No. 12, under heavy load, was generating more steam pressure than it could handle, adding that Railstar firemen also rose the steam on the engines too quickly in the morning and were overfiring the engine to a high pressure to get back up the hill to Silver Plume. Braun said the practice was causing thermal shock to the engine.
"All of this has led to us having to expand tubes three times last year on the firebox end and also witness cracking in the butt end of the tubes, which has only manifested itself this year," Braun said.
John Bush, manager of railroads at Roaring Camp & Big Trees in Felton, Calif., agreed that wear on the tubes near the firebox is indicative of overfiring an engine. While Bush couldn't confirm whether Loop crews were overfiring without actually seeing the trains in operation, he said it was more likely because of the small size of the engines.
"They are going to be working at closer to the maximum of their design potential than would a larger engine. They are going to wear more quickly, and the maintenance costs are going to be higher," Bush said.
In response to Braun's letter, Joseph Bell of the Colorado Historical Society asked for an independent evaluation of the engine. Marlin Uhrich, who contracted with the society to restore the No. 9, and Tom Blonding, a National Boiler Board inspector, went to the Loop on April 14.
Uhrich said the crews were doing a good job but they were inexperienced. His assessment written to the society confirmed that concerns about overfiring of the engine were not improbable. "The concerns that this fellow has about the locomotive being overfired at times is somewhat justified because this locomotive is small and the railroad is in need of a heavier locomotive to handle the traffic demand," Uhrich wrote. "I believe the locomotive crew is doing the best they can do at present."
Uhrich said they didn't find mechanical problems with the equipment. He went on to recommend double-heading the No. 9 and No. 12 engines going up the hill to prevent the problem of flash-firing and causing tubes to expand and contract rapidly. The two engines were run in tandem a few times on the Loop tracks last summer, but for the last 20 days of the season the 9 ran alone, as the 12 was in the shop.
Bell said he discussed the issue with Railstar and was satisfied by the vendor's response. "They were getting acquainted with the equipment," he said. "It does really take a little time and effort to really know what the personality of any machine is."
But Trottier denied that his crew ever overfired the engines. He said the Loop is a difficult run and the engines work hard, but not beyond their capacity.
"In the end you've got to make the engine work hard enough to get your load up the hill, and that is a tough job in operating this railroad," Trottier said. "I'll be the first to admit it that it's not like other tourist railroads."
However, Trottier said the No. 12 was taken off line in July for a short period to replace a grouping of the boiler tubes, the same tubes Braun said were damaged due to overfiring.
He said the operation would have preferred to change the tubes during winter maintenance, but made the decision not to because of economics. This winter the rest of the tubes will be replaced.
From the historical society's perspective, Bell said the state is working to ensure the operation is working efficiently.
"There are so many opinions out there concerning steam locomotive use and firing and how it should be operated," Bell said. "What we attempt to do is our due diligence, and work with the vendor and come to a conclusion that we're doing the best we can."
One opinion that Trottier, Uhrich and Bush agreed upon was that the No. 9 and 12 engines are not well suited to the difficult terrain and heavy demands of the tourist operation at the Loop. Uhrich also said that, in the early 1900s, steam engines were not run up and down the tracks dozens of times a day. And, train companies rotated their equipment in and out of service for maintenance more frequently, not to mention the fact that the engines were newer back then. But the engines were the only available equipment to start the operation in short order.
Next year, the society hopes to have the No. 111 on line. The powerful engine from Breckenridge should solve many of the operator's capacity problems, pull more cars and allow for more judicious use of the smaller trains.
Almost a year overdue and at the cost of more than $230,000, the No. 9 steam engine was delivered to the tracks last May. With any new piece of equipment, some time to work out the kinks is required. But breaking in the No. 9 was not possible, as described by a mechanic at the Loop.
In a letter written by Steve Butler, he calls the boiler work excellent but describes how the "systems to provide water feed, lubrication, air brakes, and control of the fire were in unserviceable condition." In fact, according to his letter, a list of 35 items needed to be repaired, and an outside company gave an estimate of $21,132 worth of further work required on the engine.
Uhrich said the restoration of No. 9 was done to the best of his shop's ability and with the time and money available. He also explained that restoring a historic steam engine requires a delicate balance of modern industry requirements and preserving the train's historic integrity. "We're taking the 21st century, and we're trying to shove it into a 19th-century locomotive," he said.
Trottier said the issues his employee raised simply represented a difference of opinions on how to restore steam engines.
Wayne Penn, a rail system safety and compliance officer with Sprinter Rail Systems, agreed that in the steam restoration community, a difference of opinions is the industry standard.
"… When it comes to steam locomotives, you could have five or six experts evaluate the same data and get five or six different opinions about it," Penn wrote. "While there are very specific mechanical standards to follow and maintain in the care and feeding of steam locomotives, there are no published industry specifications on how to perform a restoration project."
Uhrich also said that the No. 9 restoration faced unique challenges, especially in converting a coal burner to oil. In fact, Uhrich was opposed to converting the engine at all, although he is very happy to have it restored and running on the tracks today.
Bush agreed that oil firing can be complicated for former coal engines. Oil burns at a higher temperature, so the firebox creates heat faster than water can carry it away. This causes overheating of stay bolts and firebox tubes, he said.
In fact, that's what happened when the engine was repaired and run on the tracks. The No. 9 was taken off line for repairs to stay bolts three times in August, once to repair 43 stay bolts. Uhrich said this was partly due to overfiring but more directly related to the conversion of No. 9 to oil.
Only two stay bolts were replaced when the engine was restored and tested, but at Uhrich's shop the 9 was not subjected to the same amount of stress as at the Loop. When carrying passenger cars under daily operation, the firing was heating the firebox unevenly and leaks were emerging in the stay bolts. Through the end of the season a lot of kinks were worked out, systems changed, and the 9 ran the final 20 days straight as the only remaining operating equipment.
But, in his letter Butler recommended that the historical society use a combination of vendors in future restorations.
"I am left with the impression that there may be some unfamiliarity with standard full-size railroad practice, which allows for these problems to be inherent in the restoration process with the current contractor working unsupervised. Perhaps some expert counsel can be found, and more than one source considered to allow for the best combination of different vendors strengths to be better applied for a better result in future restorations," he wrote.
For the next restoration, which is that of the No. 111 from Breckenridge and also at Uhrich's shop in Strasburg, Railstar wants to have more oversight in the process, Trottier said.
Bell also said a combination of vendors will be used in the future. "We would be looking at a combination of vendors in the future to try to get the best product," Bell said. "We've learned a lot in the first project."
But the historical society has little say in who restores the 111, as it is the property of the city of Breckenridge. The society will lease the engine once it's restored, but the state is already making payments, so the city can use the money to pay for the restoration.
Over the last two seasons, Railstar and the historical society have learned a lot of lessons from operating a mountain railroad. And with each new engine that comes on the tracks, the maintenance and firing crews will be faced with new challenges.
The historical society and Railstar are also learning their lessons about restoring small engines. Trottier recommended that the state cancel the restoration of the No. 74 steam engine from Boulder. "There's too many hundreds of thousands of dollars to put it into a condition where Railstar would say, 'Hey, that's OK, we'll operate it,' " he said.
The engine also has less pulling capacity than the No. 111, where Trottier prefers to put the resources.
Trottier also said that Railstar faces the challenge of balancing the bottom line of the operation with what's needed to maximize reliability. Last winter, due to an unexpected shortfall in the maintenance budget, some work that Railstar would have preferred to do on the No. 12 couldn't be completed, Trottier said.
But Trottier said that a cost-cutting measure would never come at the expense of safety.
"We're in the driver's seat, and we're never going to do anything unsafe. I also don't want to see anybody spend money inappropriately or that could be spent on another locomotive," Trottier said.
Penn also said that steam locomotives can be run safely without repairing every single deficiency. "Steam locomotives are amazing machines, though, that have a wide tolerance for wear and tear and can keep operating safely, if less efficiently," Penn said.
Finally, Trottier pointed out that the former operator also had to learn its lessons. But it did so at a time when more equipment was available and fewer tourists already knew about Georgetown's unique attraction.
Reporter's note: The Courant attempted to locate experts with no connection with the past or current operator of the Georgetown Loop Historic Railroad and Mining Park. Wayne Penn stated he has no affiliation with either party. John Bush was employed by the former operator at the Loop as a master mechanic from 1977 to 1985, but his expertise on the No. 9 engine as it sat in the Silver Plume station was valuable to this story. Steve Torrico, superintendent of the Loop, declined to comment for this story
Loop loses steam heading into big weekend; opening delayed
By Adrienne Anderson – Clear Creek Courant
Railstar announced Tuesday it will not open the Historic Georgetown Loop Railroad this weekend in conjunction with the Railroad and Mining Days festival.
The company, the co-operator of the loop with the Colorado Historical Society, planned on running half-trips this weekend with the No. 21 diesel. But after the general manager came in from New York last weekend and tested the small locomotive on the tracks, he determined the “Critter” was not prepared to handle eight trips a day for two weeks until the No. 12 steam locomotive is ready.
“Rather then run for two days and risk a breakdown, we decided to postpone the opening,” said Tom Hill, marketing manager for the Loop. The No. 12 is currently having its boiler repaired and is due for inspection sometime in the next two weeks.
The news comes as a big blow to local businesses, which depend on the Loop to kick off their tourist season. Railroad and Mining Days was designed to coincide with the Loop’s opening.
“How do you have Railroad Days without a train?” asked Jeannette Peterson, Georgetown promotions chair and a member of the Loop Communications Committee.
Peterson also owns the Georgetown Mercantile and said the announcement was upsetting but not unexpected.
“They assured the businesses they would be up and running this weekend. There was always a ‘but’ in my head,” she said. “It is a terrible thing for this town. We’d hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did, and we need to make the best of it.”
Peterson said she is encouraging other businesses to stay positive with customers and not talk bad about the railroad.
Besides losing the weekend traffic, Peterson said losing two weeks will also hurt businesses. Hill said the railroad will open June 15.
“Losing two weeks of the summer is huge for us; there are only four months,” Peterson said.
Peterson suggested Railstar bring a train down to Devil’s Gate and have activities available for kids. Hill said Railstar will do everything it can to help the businesses out this weekend.
It is placing large color ads in each of the dailies this Friday promoting the weekend.
“We are doing some things to mitigate it, but there is nothing we can do to solve it,” Hill said.
Four people are working the phones canceling reservations, but a big portion of the Loop’s business comes from walk-ups. Several guest were turned away last season for the 12 days the Loop was shut down.
Hill said one woman brought her family unannounced from Kansas City last year and was livid when she had to turn around and head back 600 miles without a train ride. Hill said he offered her free tickets this season, and the family intends on returning.
“I’ve found that most people up on the spur of the moment are usually in a pretty good mood, and they all come back,” Hill said.
Railstar and the historical society had hoped last year that Breckenridge’s recently purchased No. 111 steam engine would be ready for operation this year. The Loop plans on leasing the engine for operation. Repairs on that locomotive have already exceed a $300,000 state grant, and Hill said he’d be surprised if the 111 were ready by May of next season.
The No. 9 steam engine needs major repairs, and bids for that project will not go out until late June or early July.
The boiler contract for the No. 12 was awarded to T-M Service, a boiler company in Englewood. The company specializes in high-pressure boilers, but the No. 12 is its first locomotive. The company is replacing all of the tubes in the firebox that were damaged last year by what experts called “overfiring” of the engine.
There was oxygen pitting in the boiler and leaks in the tubes that were preventing the boiler from building steam, said boiler engineer John Settle. Railstar assistant general manager Larry Jensen said the state boiler inspector is expected to come in the next two weeks to review the work done by T-M Service.
Last year, the Loop shut down seven times, and all three trains broke down at times throughout the season, leaving tourists without rail for 12 days. Still, the crown jewel of Georgetown and Silver Plume and a driving force of summer tourism served 73,000 passengers, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.
Initially anticipating a sell-out weekend, Railstar will instead lose two weeks of its season.
“This is obviously discouraging for everyone involved,” said Chuck Stearns, town administrator. “It’s not a good start to the tourist season; that’s for sure.”
Broken engine that can't: Repairs delay Georgetown Loop
By Steve Lipsher Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 05/24/2007 01:30:16 AM MDT
Georgetown - A mechanical problem has sidetracked the Georgetown Loop's only working steam engine, postponing the train's summer opening and leaving the town without its signature tourist attraction for this weekend's Railroad Days festival.
Staff writer Steve Lipsher can be reached at 970-513-9495 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing repairs to the axle broken on the antique engine, No. 12, in August means the unique corkscrewing narrow-gauge line won't start running until June 15.
"Unfortunately, you don't just buy the parts at Wal-Mart," said Tom Hill, spokesman for the train operators.
Last summer, the line operated with a second steam engine, No. 9, but that also is down for repairs, Hill said. Operators have a diesel "helper" engine, but it isn't deemed sufficient for the demands of eight runs daily.
The delayed opening gives fodder once again to critics of the Colorado Historical Society, which three years ago dropped its relationship with the train's former operators after 30 years and awarded a contract to New York-based Railstar Corp., which has been beset by operating problems and diminished passenger loads.
Georgetown lost more than a trusted operator
By Jerry Fabyanic
Bizarre as it seems, the Broncos are leaving Denver for Los Angeles after the 2007 season. It’s not that the Broncos want to leave; the powers-that-be are greasing the skids under them because, quite frankly, they’re too much of a good thing. Win or lose, they are the Big It in the four-pro town. So they need to go.
In their place, the Colorado Crush will switch from the Arena League to the NFL. The powers-that-be feel quite certain the Crush can make an immediate transition to the Big League despite no experience pulling the big hills—er, competing in the NFL—at 8,500—er, 5,280—feet and having no real engine—er, quarterback—to do the job.
In fact, the powers-that-be seem not to be too concerned that the Crush will forfeit the first three weeks of the season, thereby losing revenue not only for the team but also for businesses dependent upon the—rides—er, games—to draw tourists—er, fans—to their venues. It’s no more than an “inconvenience.”
In the games’ places, the powers-that-be are planning tours of the station—er, stadium—so the tourists—er, fans—can get a nostalgic look at what used to be a thriving and pulsating experience. The hundreds and maybe thousands of onlookers that will have driven from afar will be able to look at and reverently touch the tracks—er, seats—upon which they might have ridden—er, sat.
Ironically, businesses accustomed to the Broncos never breaking down—er, missing a game—know they have been railroaded—er, sacked—but keep quiet for fear the Crush might hightail, leaving them with nothing. So, instead of blowing off steam, “hush” is the word lest the situation decline from dire to disastrous.
For their part, the Broncos are more than miffed at the shabby treatment they have gotten after 30—er, 48—years of success and have made it clear they will prefer to keep their franchise in the Royal Gor—er, Los Angeles—because there they are—er, will be—appreciated, valued, and respected for the quality of the organization they run.
Through the King and the Duke in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain skewers small-town Americans, showing how easily they are taken for a ride. Liking to see themselves as sophisticates, they can often be gullible local yokels, taken in by smooth-talking big city dudes.
Hubris and the lack of accountability—there’s an epidemic of both today. Regrets and apologies are rare because the public is afraid to demand them. The reason: in their hearts, the people know they’ve been scammed and have no one to blame but themselves.
“So it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut would have phrased it.
Perhaps a marketing ploy to redress the situation locally can be the re-introduction of Good ‘n Plenty, a candy from our childhoods made of licorice inside pink and white hard-sugar capsules. Choo-Choo Charlie the Engineer can stutter-step as he did in days of yore shaking a box of Good ‘n Plenty while intoning, “Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug, woo, woo! / Good ‘n Plenty, Good ‘n Plenty, woo, woo!” Would-be riders would be invited to trail the otherwise idle crew on the tracks with a box of Good ‘n Plenty doing their personal rendition of what riding a train might have felt like.
All aboard! “Good ‘n plenty, good ‘n plenty, woo, woo!”
Loop's troubled season ends; off-season work begins
By Wally Weart
The Georgetown Loop made the last run of the year on Monday, Oct. 8, closing a season marked by mechanical problems with the Loop’s one operable steam engine.
That, combined with a late start, caused the Loop to miss about 40 days of operation.
The final ridership count for the season was 51,427, which produced $1,021,000 in revenue. That compares with 72,617 riders and revenue of $1,188,105 in 2006. Ridership for 2007 was forecast to be about 85,000, while 2006 was forecast at about 81,000.
Herschell Scott, owner of Railroad Art By Scotty in Georgetown, calculated that the Loop has lost between $339, 000 and $880,000 because of shutdowns, using fewer cars or not meeting its own targets.
Ron Trottier, general manager of the Loop, acknowledged that the operation fell short of goals and said an analysis will be prepared to explore the reasons.
“I do not think that there is any continuity from the (Colorado Historical) Society, particularly as it relates to acquisition and management of the motive power on the Loop,” Scott said, adding that standard-gauge engines that could be converted to the Loop’s narrower track gauge are available.
Clear Creek County Commissioner Joan Drury expressed concern over the prospects for next year, saying the Loop can’t have another disrupted season without losing the confidence of the ridership base.
Meanwhile, a replacement for the pin truss bridge is under design, and the society will request $390,000 for the project. Work is expected to be completed prior to next season.
Feds will oversee the Loop: Railstar will have to report problems to railroad agency
By Adriennne Anderson
Operations at the Georgetown Loop — which last year opened two weeks late, shut down for 26 days and saw ridership hit an all-time low of 51,427 — will be overseen this season by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The FRA informed Loop operator Railstar on April 7 that it will be overseeing operations this season.
With just weeks left before opening day May 24, the only steam engine ready for operation sits in pieces in the shop, and the main diesel engine has yet to arrive from Oregon.
The FRA’s announcement forced Railstar to dismantle the No. 12 steam engine and perform an ultrasound on the boiler for FRA inspection. Now the boiler awaits final approval, and it is unknown when the steam engine will be approved to hit the tracks.
The FRA currently exerts some oversight over 150 tourist railroads. Previously, oversight was typically necessary when a railroad crossed a public highway or carried freight, but those criteria apparently are expanding.
In 2005, the FRA inspected the Loop because of a minor derailment of engine No. 21. The agency was alerted to the derailment when concerned citizens contacted the Denver newspapers.
“The general condition of this insular tourist railroad is good, and it is obvious that the management and employees are working hard to improve the operation more,” chief inspector Michael Ramsey wrote in the report from 2005.
The decision to oversee the Loop, and other tourist operations like it, marks a new direction for the FRA into monitoring the safety of tourist lines.
"They are running enough trains that we believe they should be subject to our reporting requirements," said Warren Flatau, spokesman for the FRA. "As the popularity of these operations grows, so too has the scope of operations."
For years, railroads like the Loop were considered “insular” because they were not connected to the national railway system, and the FRA left the operations alone.
"It just seems interesting that (the FRA) is all of a sudden here and haven't been in 30 years," said County Commissioner Joan Drury. "Here we are weeks from opening day, and we have no train. This is a crucial, crucial year for us. Our credibility is at stake."
This year is crucial because 2007 marked the third year for the new operators and a loss of more than 20,000 riders.
In 2006, the Loop shut down seven times, and all three engines broke down at times throughout the season, leaving tourists without rail for 12 days.
Railstar and the Colorado Historical Society — which owns the land and the rolling stock — had hoped last year that the No. 111 steam engine, which is owned by Breckenridge and which the Loops plans to lease, would be ready for operation this year. Repairs on that locomotive have already exceeded a $300,000 state grant, and it is unknown when the engine will be ready.
The No. 9 steam engine needs major repairs, and bids for that project are just now going out to vendors.
Over the winter, a boiler company replaced all of the tubes in the No. 12's firebox that were damaged last year by what some experts called “overfiring” of the engine.
Lifeline at stake
The railroad is a driving force for Georgetown’s tourist economy, drawing visitors and hundreds of thousands of dollars to local shops and restaurants.
When the former operator, Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc., and the historical society failed to renegotiate a contract in 2004, some questioned how the society could arrange a new operation in the short available time. And vocal rail enthusiasts and the former operators continue to criticize Railstar and the society for mishandling the operation.
Despite the troubles, the Loop remains the crown jewel of Georgetown and Silver Plume, but some are starting to wonder if businesses rely too much on the Loop for success.
Drury said one businessperson bought a restaurant because of the Loop alone.
"It seems we have all our eggs in one basket," Drury said. "We need to expand our tourism, and we are trying to work in that direction."
Last year, several businesses fielded complaints from angry tourists turned away from the Loop. Often this was the only way businesses were informed about a closure.
At a recent Loop communications meeting, Drury asked if Railstar could do a better job of informing businesses when a closure happens.
For some rail enthusiasts, steam is the draw of the Loop. Very few operations still run with steam, and many wonder if the railroad would remain as popular without a steam engine.
"Some purists won't settle for diesel. They won't have anything to do with it," Drury said.
Still, having a diesel engine allows the operators to give the steam engines a break and meet the growing demand. Even with the closures, the railroad continually sells out.
"It seems better to have a diesel locomotive in the mix rather than grind as many trips in a day and then sit around and pray and hold hands," Railstar spokesman Tom Hill said. "We don't want to do that anymore."
The FRA’s Flatau said the agency will monitor all aspects of the Loop operations but will specifically focus on compliance with the FRA's steam regulations, power brake requirements and incident reporting.
While some see the FRA oversight as a setback and a symbol of the railroad’s recent failures, others see it as a natural progression for an industry that continues to gain popularity.
"Everyone is thinking about the FRA as a ghost under the bed, and I think that's unfair," Hill said. "I really don't feel like there is an ax to grind."
Joseph Bell of the Colorado Historical Society agreed.
"I think the timing of their announcement for oversight was a little late in the game," Bell said. "This is a learning curve for us, and this is bad timing. But I think this is a good thing. We will have access to experts that won't charge us and will give us guidance."
Flatau said the FRA will be doing a little "hand-holding" this season. Railstar will now have to report any incident to the FRA directly.
And while the FRA is holding Railstar's hand, Georgetown and Silver Plume will be crossing their fingers in hopes of avoiding another season tainted by closures.
"Nationally, this railroad is recognized, and people want to ride it," Drury said. "I don't want to point fingers, but we can't go through another year like last year."
Loop Set To Open Saturday with Diesel Engine
By Adriennne Anderson
The Georgetown Loop Railroad is set to run this weekend in conjunction with Railroad and Mining Days, but railroad enthusiasts won't see steam until at least July, the operators said.
"There's a lot of purists, and a lot centered in Colorado," said Railstar president Ron Trottier. "And they have their objections to a non-steam operation, but this is the reality of the situation, and there's nothing we can do differently."
Railstar and the Colorado Historical Society were forced to halt work on the No. 12 steam engine after the Federal Railroad Administration announced oversight in April. The FRA will oversee Loop operations this summer, and the agency is currently testing the No. 12's boiler. Until the results are back, mechanics cannot fully complete work on the engine that was on track for opening day.
"Repairs aren't going according to our schedule," Trottier said. "They are going according to the only schedule available to us — the federal government's."
Trottier said he believes increased local traffic will help fill the gaps left by purists who will stay away from the Loop.
The powerful 1203 diesel engine arrived in Silver Plume on May 18, just one week before opening day. Railstar has made several adjustments to accommodate what will be the largest train in its stock. The loading ramps at both stations had to be adjusted, and the penn-truss bridge was completely rebuilt.
"This is a locomotive that is a new beast for us," Trottier said. "We'll have to test it and make adjustments to our operations. It will take us a better part of three days to do that."
Railstar expects the 1203 will be ready to pull cars by Saturday, but, if not, the No. 21 recovery engine can haul four cars at a time, or 139 passengers.
"We are expecting a good weekend," said Tom Hill, Railstar's marketing director. "I think it will be enough to pull everyone for Railroad and Mining Days."
Last year the Loop opened two weeks late because, Trottier said, the No. 21, also known as the "Critter," could not handle eight trips a day. But Hill said several improvements were made to the small engine over the winter.
Ridership hit an all-time low last season of 51,427. The operators hope to exceed 80,000 riders this year.
Loop turns visitors away on Father's Day
By Adriennne Anderson
With only the small No. 21 diesel engine making trips at the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Railstar was forced to turn away several customers on Father’s Day.
Since opening Memorial Day weekend, the Loop as been hauling four cars per trip with the “Critter,” which was originally intended as a recovery engine only.
“We turned a lot of people away Sunday,” said Tom Hill, Railstar marketing director. “We can only pull four cars. It’s one of those things there’s not much you can do about.”
The large 1203 diesel engine arrived from Oregon in time for opening weekend, but part of the needed rebuilding work was incomplete.
Joseph Bell of the Colorado Historical Society would not discuss details about why the work was not complete but said the society is in discussions with the Oregon supplier. Railstar is expecting the remaining parts this week to finish work on the 1203, and general manager Ron Trottier said he hopes the engine will hit the tracks next week.
“So far the 21 is meeting most of the demand,” Trottier said. “But obviously we would like to see the demand go up.”
Herschel Scott, owner of Railroad Art by Scotty, said Georgetown was packed on Father’s Day.
“No matter what locomotive they had, they probably would have turned people away,” Scott said. Despite the crowds, Scott said he did not see brisk business on Sunday. “Yesterday was definitely an ice cream crowd,” he said. “A lot of businesses here don’t cater to men, but I do. It should have been a good day, but it wasn’t.”
Since the Federal Railroad Administration announced oversight of the Loop in April, Railstar has had to backtrack work on the No. 12 steam engine and complete a diagnostic report on the boiler for FRA approval. The required Form 4 has still not been completed, and Trottier said riders won’t see steam until August. This will mark the first season for the Loop railroad operating without a steam engine, its No. 1 draw.
“The faster we have steam back, the better,” Hill said. “In my opinion, not having steam is detrimental.”
Hill said demand is hardest to meet at midday, when the Loop sees an influx of walk-in traffic. Hill recently placed ads in the Rocky Mountain News advertising discounted rates for earlier train rides.
“We need to fill up the empty rides,” Hill said. “If you can move your window of sales back even 40 minutes, it’s a huge difference.”
Hill said he has heard only a couple of complaints about the lack of a steam engine but said there is no way to gauge how many tourists simply don’t show because of it.
“If someone goes to the visitor center in Idaho Springs and hears there is no steam, they might drive on by and never return,” Hill said. “It is very important for us to get steam back as soon as possible, and I think everybody up and down the Front Range feels the same way.”
Trottier hopes the 111 steam engine from Breckenridge will be ready by next season.
“That train will be a tremendous value for us; it’s capable of pulling eight or nine cars,” he said. “By next year, we will be in pretty good shape.”
Loop's No. 12 Steam Engine Not On Track for DNC
By Adrienne Anderson
Mechanics continue to work on the Georgetown Loop’s No. 12 steam engine to comply with the Federal Railroad Administration’s guidelines. But the steam engine won’t be ready until September — after the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
The Loop has been operating most of the season with the large 1203 diesel, which has been able to meet daily demands. Ridership so far this year is around 55,000. The Loop’s best year since Railstar took over operations was 72,000 riders in 2006.
“We are optimistic that we will come in above that number,” said Railstar president Ron Trottier.
The Federal Railroad Administration informed Railstar in April that it would be overseeing the Loop’s operations this season. The announcement came as both Railstar and the Colorado Historical Society were trying to bounce back from a tough season in 2007, when the tourist rail opened two weeks late, shut down 15 times and ridership hit an all-time low of 51,427.
Trottier said it has been frustrating to not operate with steam, but that riders have not seemed to mind.
“It’s not a quick or cheap process,” Trottier said. “But in all honesty, the locomotive will be very durable at the end of this process.”
The railroad was hoping to have steam operating for the week of the Democratic National Convention, but minor repairs and extensive work on the boiler continue to delay its operation.
“What seems like a little criteria from the FRA actually requires a fair amount of man-hours,” Trottier said.
Marketing director Tom Hill said he has not seen an increase in reservations because of the convention but does expect the Loop will draw some families of convention delegates because of proximity.
“A lot of the businesses I talk to don’t expect a big upswing in visitors,” Hill said. “But my gut feeling is that we will see some families. We offer a great venue for people in Colorado, and we are close.”
Proximity to Denver has played a role in growing ridership numbers for the Loop while other tourist trains are reporting sluggish business, Hill said.
“We’ve also seen an upswing in international travelers because of the weakness of the dollar,” he said.
Trottier said it is essential that Railstar end the season with steam.
“I will feel a lot better if we have steam before the year is over,” Trottier said. “It would allow us to prove our case before next year that we are back in steam.”
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