Railway Preservation News

Economic impact of steam
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Author:  Dave [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 9:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

This was studied by the previous marketing director at New Hope Valley RR in NC abut 3-4 years ago when the steamer was going to go down for her 15 year, and the second steamer was not making much progress towards being available to replace it. Steam trains were selling more seats at a higher ticket price than the identical diesel powered option running at the same schedule, and the difference was very consequential. I's been 2 steamless years now, and I don't know how the numbers have worked out - our newsletter is full of asking for help and what's going on in other places, but nothing about the business at our own line. Events have been increased which made some difference...... and everybody's line is different so it's hard to draw any conclusion that what's working at another railroad must also work at yours.

What are people coming to your place to see and do? What is the goal you are trying to reach that a steam program could provide? What other amenities do you lack that could also contribute towards achieving the goal? What other things do people travel to your area to see and do?

Author:  co614 [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 9:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Randy in answer to your question I think this is a classic example of the IAD ( it all depends) rule in full force.

One of the few "tourist" roads who have attempted to directly address this question ( is the considerably greater capex/opex demanded by steam recoverable at the fare box) is the NH&I RR where I am a very part time engineer.

The last two Christmas seasons we have operated North Pole Express trains on alternating hours pulled by 2-8-0 # 40 or a diesel with the steam product carrying a 20% higher price. Other than the motive power everything else is identical.

So far the higher priced steam product has held its own rather well. The cheaper diesel trains sell out first fairly consistently.

If you want greater insight into this I suggest you reach out to the NH&I management as I'm sure they'd be willing to share their findings with you.

IMHO the future for steam squarely depends on linking it to special events that are traditionally linked to steam ( under the Christmas tree, Thomas, Hogwarts Express, etc.) as the folks who knew and loved steam as part of their growing up experience are nearly all gone and in 10-15 years they'll all be gone.

One of my greatest rewards when I'm engineer on # 40 is my time in the depot before departure explaining the machine to the little ones and see how it enthralls them totally with its magic sounds & smells. Priceless.

Ross Rowland

Author:  Brian Norden [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Randy Hees wrote:
We are getting some public pressure to have and operate a steam locomotive. (we have three, all displayed static.

We are not against doing this, but at this time don't have the resources to commit to the effort. The vocal community group suggests that we would get 250,000 riders/visitors a year if we did operate steam. Their numbers are badly inflated if not just made up...
Boulder City is in a unique location that has its problems. It is near Las Vegas and Henderson and with these are part of Clark County with more than two million population. It is on the traditional route between Las Vegas to Hoover Dam (and on to Kingman and Phoenix, Arizona. Now, for good and bad, most through traffic is now using the new freeway bypassing the community.

The railroad museum can help draw several different kinds of travelers to Boulder City and its resources. One of these are day trippers on weekends, etc. bringing their families to see the museum or ride a train; hopefully these will eat a meal while in town. These coming from the greater Las Vegas area might have traveled anything from five to 40+ miles to get to the Museum.

Another kind of traveler are those on multi-day trips through the region. These are likely to want to see/tour Hoover Dam. Boulder City offers a local history museum and the railroad museum that may interest such travelers. Ideally Boulder City would like these people to spend a night or two in town instead of Las Vegas or Henderson. However, it does not offer the entertainment and other diversions of Las Vegas; and
it is about 25 miles from the Las Vegas "Strip."

I too would think that 250,00 is inflated.
It sounds like the community group is grasping at ways to improve their lot.

Author:  Dave [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Perhaps the community business interests would subsidize the operation of a leased steamer and market it as a test? If it's their goal they need to help you help them reach it.

Author:  John Redden [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 5:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

If one wants an apples-to-apples comparison of steam and diesel, I might suggest the Arcade and Attica. They have been in the tourist rail business since 1962 (I think?). In their 56+ years doing this, I'd guess about 2/3 of the time has been with steam, and the remainder with diesel. Other relevant variables have remained unchanged, to my knowledge.

My guess is that they probably have more data on steam vs. diesel, than just about anybody in the business.


Author:  bmt4449 [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

So, while I don’t have a study, I do have very reliable evidence that steam, at least on the railroad I volunteer, does substantially better. I don’t have a numbers breakdown but anytime our steam engine goes down for light repairs or a boiler wash and we have not had a backup our ticket sales get cut in at least half. Also, we get a lot of complaints from people who drove long distances when we are not running steam.

We don’t have the population numbers you can pull from as we are about 80 miles from Portland, we do get weekly turnover in ocean rental houses/condos and some of our best days are Monday/Tuesday. This is because we run steam seven days a week and people see us checking in their places on Sunday afternoon.

The down side is being able to have competent crews. We run 4 trips on the weekends and so we split the trips two and two as our older guys won’t last the season running 11 hour days. What is clear is the public has little interest in diesel compared to steam even if it is vintage. In our case, a GN F-7.

Also, we have constant complaints about our dinner train not being run by steam. Despite the web page being clear and showing a picture of a diesel on that ticket page, steam is still part of the attraction.

The other thing to remember is the trip you provide needs to give people the steam experience. Riding in closed air conditioned cars does not provide that. Not sure how you will handle this in the desert. I can say another regional railroad with steam went to closed streamlined cars and their ridership went down a lot. If you can’t hear it and see it, then who cares what is pulling it.

Brandon Thompson
Former Business Manager and current crew scheduler
Oregon Coast Scenic RR

Author:  Randy Hees [ Sat Jun 15, 2019 6:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Dave, Randy, Ross, Thank you for your observations. This is what we are trying to understand.

For those who have asked questions about the Museum and its operations
We are a Nevada State museum, in the division of Museums & History, under the Department of Tourism & Culture.

The museum is located on a former Union Pacific (LA&SL) branch line built in 1930 to support the construction of Hoover (aka Boulder) Dam… It is one of three railroads built to build the dam… our line from the LA&SL mainline in the Las Vegas Valley, 25 miles eastward (railroad west) to the site of today’s Boulder City… then just a dam construction camp. From Boulder City there was a 10 mile long “Government Railroad” to the top of Hoover dam. That line was abandoned in 1961 and scrapped in 1963. We have in our collection a 30 ton Davenport gas/mechanical locomotive built for that railroad. The third railroad was the “6-Companies” construction railroad… which left from the Government railroad and ran 17 miles on two branches, one to the bottom of the dam, the second into Arizona where sand and gravel were mined for the concrete to build the dam. The roadbed of that line is now submerged in Lake Mead. We have recently acquired but have not yet moved a side dump car from the 6-companies railroad.
The UP donated the upper end (12 miles) of the branch to the state in 1985. The state then transferred the lower 7 miles to the City of Henderson who have used it as an economic development project. They now have 3 railroad customers receiving roughly 30 cars a week. The Henderson owned track is switched by UP. The state retained operating rights on the Henderson track, but FRA and UP make using those complicated (for good reasons)

The state “studied” the concept of a railroad museum, with studies in 1986 and 1988… based on those studies started to acquire equipment both by donation and purchase. UP donated GP 30 no 844 (aka the yellow one) a caboose and some work cars. We received a Army surplus H-12-44. We purchased the assets of the Heber RR after it entered receivership. On several occasions steam locomotives were trucked down from sister Carson City museum for demonstration trains. We hosted hand car races.
The track was rehabilitated in 2001, leading to the start of regular operations in 2002.
Last year we had 52,000 visitors, both to the outdoor museum displays, to ride the train, or to ride Rail Explorers (Railexplorers.net)

This June, the Nevada Legislature passed a conservation bond act which includes $25 million for “museum expansion” including a 9,000 square foot visitor center and two additional display buildings, one open, one enclosed. We are also turning our ½ yard site into a linear railroad themed part, tying the community to a significant regional bike trail system (Rails WITH trails)

The community has been a significant supporter of our efforts. Through the City we have in place additional funds to build our access road.

With this community support, comes community questions… one involving the possibility of steam operations. We have a 1907 UP 2-8-0 which is a good candidate for operation. We have a 1896 narrow gauge 2-8-0 which would be a cheap steam loco (less than $200,000) but confined to our yard. There is a UP 0-6-0 in a park nearby. So steam is a possibility. Currently Eureka, a 1875 narrow gauge Baldwin 4-4-0 spends three weeks operating at our museum every Christmas.

Currently we operate Saturdays and Sundays year round… more often at Christmas. The trainset has seating for 250… there are several cars on the property that can be rehabilitated to add capacity (we would like to have a capacity of about 400) but the cost of rehabilitation is significant. Particularly the cost of conversion to HEP to support air conditioning (we had 85 days over 100 degrees in a row two years ago… the hottest I have seen was 129 degrees on the platform in the sun… ) I note that currently our total visitor space with AC is our 196 square foot store… the visitor center (with its AC) is important.

On the other hand, we have 11 million tourist drive by every year… and 45 million tourist 30 miles away in Las Vegas…

We welcome visitors...

Author:  co614 [ Sat Jun 15, 2019 7:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Randy I would again recommend that you communicate with the leadership at the NH&I RR ( newhoperailroad.com) as they have done some serious real time operations directly addressing your question.

Despite what us serious steam lovers would like to be the case the overwhelming majority of casual tourist type train riders could care less what's pulling their train.

It's other factors ( mostly special events i.e. Thomas, North Pole, Hogwarts, Easter Bunny,Valentines Day, Fathers Day, etc. etc.) that really fill the seats not the engine.

We've found that when you do the honest lifecycle economics that steam adds an absolute minimum of 25% to your operating costs when you include a reserve for the next 1472 FRA work up. If you can figure out how to charge an extra 25% to ride behind your steam engine vs. your diesel then go for it.

IMHO-Ross Rowland

Author:  Crescent-Zephyr [ Sat Jun 15, 2019 8:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Those of us who work daily with the public at an operation that runs both steam and diesel know that the general public isn’t as stupid as some people claim. I find it super arrogant to think that other humans aren’t smart enough to understand the difference in the history and operation of steam vs. diesel. If your attitude is “who cares they don’t know the difference” than your really not doing any favors being involved in the preservation industry. My humble opinion of course. Ha.

Now I’ll totally admit the business answer is not always to run steam. Some operations can do well without it... royal gorge, Napa wine, etc.

Other operations do well with a mix of both steam and diesel.

Author:  Alexander D. Mitchell IV [ Sat Jun 15, 2019 9:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

This topic has been addressed on this forum many times before.

Among other operations that can give you a comparison between steam and diesel ridership: The Grand Canyon Railway (runs steam an average of once a month and special occasions--but note that the major traffic driver is the destination and not the ride); the Wilmington & Western; the Black River & Western in New Jersey; and others.

The general conclusion in past years is that the steam-vs.-diesel debate tends to depend on what you're marketing--history, scenery, or a different experience.

In theory, there should be little to no additional draw for the once-a-month steam run to the Grand Canyon, but the railroad will tell you differently.

The W&W, in the 1980s and 1990s when they were forced to use a diesel for trips that were marketed as "steam," saw a 50% or so drop in ridership on weekends with diesel, but also a reduction in expenses. You may have trouble pitching diesel on a "Civil War" or "Wild West" weekend/attraction, but then again there's the Stone Mountain Scenic RR......

Author:  Richard Glueck [ Sun Jun 16, 2019 9:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Stea is a totally experiential event. People love the look, motion, sounds and smells. Couple that to an attractive run, and you have a real draw. There is also the "surprise factor" for people who never expected to see steam, then suddenly find themselves driving abreast of a living, breathing, steamer.
Ross has often quoted Ward Kimball, and it's true, "With a Diesel it's a train. With a steam locomotive, it's an event."

Author:  co614 [ Sun Jun 16, 2019 10:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

I'm fond of quoting Walt Disney who said " with a diesel it's a train, with a steam engine it's a happening". So true.

The subject of this thread was does it make sense to operate steam as a shortline ( museum) type operation. The answer is under certain circumstances yes, under others no.

Bottom line is generally speaking the vast majority of the " daisy picker public" could care less what's pulling their train. They're there for other reasons and to them a train is a train is a train.

Mainline is a completely different animal but that's not the subject of this thread.

Ross Rowland

Author:  Dave [ Mon Jun 17, 2019 7:43 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

OK, seems like there's no shortage of people going through your area. Not sure what the potential operable line is like - decent scenery, the dam itself, just sand? One potential goal would be to convert people touring nearby from bypassers to visitors. Unless you want to run a casino on wheels, Vegas isn't probably going to help a lot. Hoover Dam? Visitors visiting there for the engineering history would be likely visitors. Personally, I can't figure out why anybody would go to Hoover Dam....... we have an adequate number of Duke Power dams and lakes nearby for me, but I may be ignorant..... which is another challenge steam or diesel isn't going to help with. If your dam beats ours enough to justify our going way out there to see it, we aren't being told about it.

Colorado isn't far away - the State owns Georgetown Loop and works with a private operator, the scenery is very special and the trip is a great length for an impulse buy - being right on the interstate from Denver to the mountains is a great benefit. Contrast this to CATS - also owned by state governments, scenery high desert which some people find beautiful, others dull. It's an economic development program for a place which would otherwise have many more sheep than people nearby, and not easy to get to. Both operate steam - I never worked a CATS but at the Loop passengers displayed a preference for steam power but the scenery would get them on board even with diesel, but in somewhat fewer numbers - hard to tell since the limitation in terms of tickets available to sell was set by the size of the parking available (remember, you need to park the cars of the people waiting to board and those on board preparing to depart at the same time.) We could probably have run Budd cars and sold out. John Bush can fill you in on the drawing power of steam at CATS. There's nothing else to bring them in, it's remote and the trip is not an impulse buy.

Consider the lease of a small standard gauge steamer and passenger cars for one season as a pilot project and see how it performs. Then it becomes a marketing project with minimal capital invested in long term assets that may sit and expire if it isn't a success. It also tests the ability of your consortium to actually successfully market - which can kill of an otherwise profitable possibility for a damnably stupid reason (see Hoover Dam commentary above.)

Author:  xboxtravis7992 [ Mon Jun 17, 2019 10:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Dave wrote:
OK, seems like there's no shortage of people going through your area. Not sure what the potential operable line is like - decent scenery, the dam itself, just sand? One potential goal would be to convert people touring nearby from bypassers to visitors. Unless you want to run a casino on wheels, Vegas isn't probably going to help a lot.

A few things about the site:

1. The rail line does not head to the dam, the rails to it have been long torn up. The current section of track is from Boulder City to the edge of town. Past Boulder City the line connects into an active UP industrial branchline that runs through Henderson and back into Vegas.

2. The scenery is typical Las Vegas desert scenery that looks like something off a The Killers album covers. Sparse dirt with a mix of brush growing in it. Its an acquired taste for sure, I have learned to care for it due to my visits to high desert out here in Utah; but I know most people would quickly dismiss it as a trek through dirt. So unless you've come to love the high desert, most people would not value the scenery that much.

3. Vegas probably helps being so close. Sure the percentage of railfans who visit Las Vegas is probably very small, but in a 'Sin City' the Nevada Southern has the distinction of being one of a handful of family friendly options in town; and other than the Las Vegas Monorail one of the few rail attractions worth seeing. Last time I was in the area it was a trip with my friends to photograph the Monorail, the Museum, and then drive down to Kingman Az to railfan the old ATSF routes.

4. Casino train would be illegal on the route, Boulder City is one of two towns in all of Nevada that has actually locally outlawed gambling. The Railroad Pass Casino at the end of the line is just barely outside Boulder City limits.

5. The museum owns three steam engines, a Mikado and 2-8-0 that came from the old Heber Creeper prior to that line's bankruptcy and reorganization in the 1990's. The other is a 3' gauge steamer that is stored in the back. In addition there is a self propelled steam crane 'The Crab' from my hometown here in Utah that is part of the museum collection. The Mikado and 2-8-0 are pretty beat up from their time in Utah, and while they could be restored they are less than ideal candidates. The narrow gauge steamer and 'The Crab' could make good candidates, but the entire line would have to be double gauged to allow the narrow gauge equipment any room outside the main museum grounds. The existing narrow gauge track though has played host to a steam engine... Dan Markoff's Eureka. Dan also stores some of his trailer rigs at the museum and his Elsa replica project was built at the museum, so he has a pretty good relation with the place and its likely we'll see Eureka make a few more visits to probe the waters for steam.

6. The Hoover Dam is close, and also the boat docks for people who go boating in Lake Mead. So while the railroad doesn't reach the dam, it is surrounded by active tourism to it.

Author:  Dave [ Mon Jun 17, 2019 11:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Railfans will visit already, don't even think about them. Do families actually choose the Vegas area for a vacation destination to the extent that a family friendly attraction would prove beneficial? Does Lake Mead bring in people from away or simply serve as a recreational venue for locals? How you market - either as a local or tourist oriented venue will differ. Locals will need a series of frequent events for new reasons to visit again, tourists a good, well crafted ride experience who may do it again if they come to the area in the future, but may decide to visit other regions in future years so the same product would be fine for them.

You wan to run at some reasonable speed - say 15MPH - for between 30 and 60 minutes ideally, out and back. The quality of the scenery isn't amenable to spectation so no longer. My gut is the Old West appeal of steam would be of sole benefit in making the ride special if foreign tourists are your market since there's no destination on the line and the scenery is not impressive. A shorter trip also means air conditioning isn't as critical.

Adding a third rail to historic track may be impossible and isn't preservation. the UP 0-6-0 is the most practical choice of what's in your collection, CSRM can help guide you since they know them intimately. Better to lease something with an older style for the Old West appeal..... try Richard Grigsby for a small sustainable old looking steamer.

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