FEVR excursions not running this year

2013-07-20T03:00:00Z FEVR excursions not running this yearBy Chris Zavadil/Fremont Tribune Fremont Tribune
July 20, 2013 3:00 am  • 

The Nebraska Railroad Museum in Fremont has suspended Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad excursions for the season, due to track conditions.

“Effectively we cut the season a little bit short last year. … We haven’t run any this year,” Executive Director Dennis Wallen said.

The museum is the parent nonprofit corporation that operates the FEVR.

“The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) has some concerns about the current condition of the track, we also have concerns about the condition of the track,” Wallen said.

Rob Kulat of the FRA told the Tribune via phone message that his agency inspected the track, “and after discussing it with them, they made their own decision to suspend operations.”

Several sections of the track do not meet FRA standards for safe operation, Wallen explained.

“It’s possible that we might be able to operate over some of those parts,” he said, “but neither the FRA nor ourselves are comfortable with the condition to maintain safe passenger operations. There would have to be some work done on some select spots to get the track straightened out, leveled up, issues like that that need to be addressed.”

Wallen said the FRA has “been interested in our situation” since Mike Williams of Richmond, Mo.-based Railroad Materials Salvage Inc. purchased the 17-mile line and the museum’s locomotives in December 2010, renaming it the Fremont Northern Railroad.

The museum and depot at 1835 N. Somers Ave., surrounding grounds, rolling stock and two siding tracks were not included in the sale.

The museum remains open for special occasions, such as John C. Fremont Days and special tours, Wallen said.

Museum board minutes following the sale indicated Williams intended to make track repairs and restore the out-of-service connection with the general railroad system, but those repairs have not been completed.

The Fremont Dinner Train, after 23 years of operation in Fremont, last year moved operations to Baldwin City, Kan., due in part, manager Bruce Eveland said, to concerns about track conditions and skepticism that repairs would be made.

While not directly affiliated with one another, the Dinner Train rented the locomotive and crews from the museum.

“Our contract with the Dinner Train and what they were paying us to pull them provided us with over half our operating revenue,” Wallen said. “When they left, that left us with considerably reduced income.

“There are issues both financially and legally with us being able to go out and repair track that belongs to another party, so we’ve got several things that we have to consider that would have to be done,” he said.

“With the leaving of the Fremont Dinner Train last year, we all thought it was best if we just did not operate this year because of the condition of the track until we see if we can get some repairs made,” he said.

“This last week we finally posted a notice on our website that we will not be running for the remainder of the season, and we’ve been telling our customers that when they call in,” Wallen said. “We gave it our best shot but we couldn’t come up with anything that we were comfortable with, either from a safety aspect or a financial or legal aspect for this year.

“We’re still going to try next year, but we’re going to take this time to use what resources we’ve got to try to develop a plan for next year,” he said.

The excursion season typically starts in May and runs through Halloween.

Williams twice in 2012 told the Tribune he still intends to make track repairs. Efforts to reach him on Friday were unsuccessful.

Museum board minutes from May 8 indicated that President David Fachman, after meeting with an FRA official, unsuccessfully attempted to contact Williams. Wallen said on Friday he was unsure whether any museum officials had been able to reach Williams since then.

“We’re making a good faith effort to try to work with him as the owner of the line and us as tenants basically. … The FRA is in contact with him, people have been in contact with him about the situation as much as possible. We’re still wanting to maintain a very good relationship with him in that respect,” Wallen said.

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