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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:


Running Trains and Crystal Balls
09 August 2003


In August 2002, the management board of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum made the decision to operate trains six days a week during the summer months of 2003. This is part of a long-term strategy that is the realization of a promise made nineteen years ago. When Kennecott gave the railroad to the community, the promise of the railroad was for it to become the new economic generator of the community. Running on just weekends and only for four months of the year the railroad never lived up to its potential. At the meeting in August, the board committed to running six days a week and extending the season through October.

So what is an economic generator? In short, it is a tool of the community that produces jobs and income for the community. The decision of the management board to increase the number of trains is a positive step on the long road of realizing the full potential of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The long-term goal of the railroad is to carry over 20,000 passengers a year.


Letís take a moment and look at the financial impact of 20,000 passengers a year. For starters, that would raise over $360,000 in ticket revenue for the museum. Twenty thousand passengers would also spend money in our gift shop and on concessions. For sake of argument, letís say that the average sale is $5 per passenger. This brings in an additional $100,000 to the museum. Then we would also increase the number rentals at the museum. This year the number of rentals is up over fifty. So, letís project 200 rentals by 2006, at the average cost of $400 or $80,000 in a year. Grand total, $540,000 per operating season and this is just train related revenue at the museum. This does not include grant income, membership dues, or fund raising efforts.


By the year 2006, it is the goal of the railroad to carry 20,000 passengers a year.


Due to Elyís remoteness, most of those passengers would probably fill their gas tanks, get something to eat, and a sizeable percentage would spend the night here in White Pine County. The figure I have seen thrown about is each visitor spends about $150 per visit. So 200,000 passengers would generate $3,000,000 in the community. That plus the money spent at the railroad would generate over $3.5 million annually in White Pine County, a nice chunk of change.

So how do we get from here to there? First off, we can plan to hit the target of 20,000 riders by our centennial in 2006. That gives us a little over two years to get ready.

For starters, it wonít be easy. Currently the museum does not have the capability to handle such a passenger load. We need more engineers, conductors, brakemen, mechanics, and administrative staff. In addition to staff, we need more operating passenger cars, more operating locomotives, and more track maintenance equipment. So how do we get the resources that we need?

Well for starters, we recruit more volunteers. This year our volunteer pool is over forty-five individuals. Two of our volunteers have taken up residency in Ely for the summer and they have railroading in their blood. Next year I suspect we will have at least four individuals who will spend the summer in Ely volunteering for the railroad.

As a side benefit of running a lot of trains, we now have an aggressive training program for train crewmembers. We have men and women at all levels of training from rear brakeman to engineer. In fact, we have graduated both a steam engineer and a diesel engineer so far this summer. (Our training program maybe aggressive, but it is safe. We train and test at every step of the way. And just because you passed a level doesnít mean that the training has stopped. Posted on my computer is a quote from Mark Twain, ďGood judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.Ē)

In short, to hit the target of 20,000 passengers a year by 2006, we are training additional train personnel. We are raising money to put steam locomotives 40 and 81 back into service. And we are looking for money to bring the additional passenger cars that we have on the property back into service.

Slowly but surely we are moving forward to realize the promise that was made over 18 years ago. Thatís what our crystal ball shows.




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