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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail:


Off and Running the Trains
28 June 2003


Well, the season is here and we are off and running the trains six days a week. (If you live anywhere in East Ely you already know that.) It was a gamble on the part of the museum to adopt such an aggressive schedule. The conundrum that the museum finds itself in is the classic chicken or egg paradox, which came first?

For the Nevada Northern Railway to attract more passengers we need to run more trains, for more trains to run we need more passengers. Our reputation is that we only operate on the weekends. This is quite the up hill battle to overcome.

So how are we doing? Is it worth it to run trains with only a few people on it? As of right now, we have carried 2,000 passengers, an increase of 382 more passengers this year over the same point in time last year. Three-hundred eighty-two more people who have experienced the Nevada Northern Railway and can now go home and tell their friends. This also brought the museum almost $10,000 in additional revenue.

The long-term plan of the museum is to have this scene be a daily occurrence during the summer.

We need to compare that additional $10,000 with the additional expenses that were generated. The expenses would be fuel, labor, and wear and tear on the equipment.

Starting with fuel, we have actually spent almost $4,000 less on fuel this year than last year. Our diesel fuel costs are over $1,000 less this year. Remember the diesel locomotives were designed to haul loaded ore cars. With our four-car train, the locomotives barely get out of idle. A diesel locomotive throttle has eight run positions; on most excursion trips the locomotive rarely goes to run 3. And then for the return trip, the locomotive is in idle because gravity is doing all of the work.

The museum staff is the same this year as last year. There are three people working in the shops and there are three people working in administration and the gift shop. These people would be paid whether trains were running or not. Our secret weapon is our volunteers. On todayís train, I was the only paid employee, the entire train crew was made up of volunteers. Running additional trains does not increase personnel costs.

What about wear and tear on the equipment? The round trip to Keystone is sixteen miles. Round trip to Adverse is twenty-two miles. In a normal week of operation, there are five trips to Keystone and three trips to Adverse. Total miles travel in a week is 146 miles. Our passenger coaches came from commuter service in Chicago. I would estimate they did over a thousand miles a day at least five days a week. In one week that would be five thousand miles and Iíll bet the commuters or shop workers didnít baby those cars like we do. In our thirteen-week summer schedule, the coaches will run less than two thousand miles. There is no comparison.

So what does this mean? Running daily trains creates additional revenue for the museum, keeps people in Ely just a little longer, doesnít increase fuel or employee costs, and as a bonus does not wear out the equipment.

So does it pay to run trains with only a few passengers? The short answer, yes. What this season will accomplish is getting the word out that we are not just a weekend railroad, and will allow us to build for the future. How many passengers could we carry in a season? My goal is thirty thousand; not impossible, but difficult. So when you canít get in to your favorite restaurant at lunch time in 2005, just remember you heard about it here first.




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