We're starting to see what the reality of preservation railroading will look like with COVID-19 lingering

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

We’re starting to see what U.S. preservation railroading is looking like with COVID-19 lingering in the land. It’s not a pretty picture. With some states beginning to open (my dog can get a haircut; I on the other hand cannot), with federal health officials warning that sports may be on hold for this year, and with airlines not selling middle seats, it’s a mess out there. I’d say this is the toughest environment that modern railway preservation has dealt with.

 

On Wednesday, UP announced that it will not run Big Boy No. 4014 or 4-8-4 No. 844. I think they made the right call: Big Boy draws crowds trackside that defy imagination. No social distancing is possible. There’s also another reason. With freight traffic in the tank, UP is furloughing employees a total of 4 weeks this year: You don’t throw a party for everybody when your own people are hurting financially. UP Vice President Scott Moore said steam will be back in 2021, and I believe him (provided that science does come up with a way to vaccinate and test). For those of you who got out and saw No. 4014 last year, I say, “bravo.” It was grand. (and to be honest, given the amazing performance that Ed Dickens and his crew put in, they should get this year off anyway with full pay). For those who said they’d wait for this year, I say, “Sorry, but remember that now is the time and next year is never a given.” Once again, my friends, when opportunities arise, don’t delay.

 

The Cumbres & Toltec has pushed its opening date back from Memorial Day weekend to June 13 and plans to run one train per day across the whole railroad on a six-day a week schedule until late summer when fall colors beckon visitors to the Rockies. That acknowledges what will be a fact: that customers will be slow to return to any venue. 50th anniversary plans, including the Victorian Iron Horse Roundup, are still on — for now. This from one of the most respected and well-run tourist railroads in the country.

Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley Scenic on Wednesday cancelled all excursions through Sept. 30.  

Across the country, every tourist railroad and museum is facing a financial disaster from COVID-19. Those that can offer social distancing (museums with big spacious buildings; excursion train operators with plenty of seats where parties can be segregated), have an opportunity to come back earlier than later. It is going to be a rough stretch of track ahead. Do your shopping in online gift shops, make those donations, and renew those memberships. Every dollar counts.

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