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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 12:49 am 

Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2004 11:16 am
Posts: 646
The C&TS after their slow response to the new part 230 had a commissioner announce that because a third locomotive was coming online that they would have a huge jump in ridership as a result. But the results were not there. The results were not as predicted. Marketing or getting the word out is the key to success not what type of motive power you use. While a steam locomotive brings a certain level of interest, the vast majority of people can not tell the difference. A good marketing effort will do more to get riders than a steam locomotive.

Robby Peartree


Last edited by Robby Peartree on Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 1:36 am 

Joined: Mon Jun 24, 2013 12:54 pm
Posts: 289
If I may,

I recently returned from Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon (Shameless Plug, DO IT!) and as often as our family travels we look for either train stores/shows, museums, or tourist railroads to visit on our journeys.

We planned the ENTIRE trip to the Grand Canyon, and Vegas area, around the Grand Canyon Railway's "Steam Saturday's" event. For those who are not familiar, GCRY only operates one of their two operating steam locomotives on the first Saturday of every month from April or May to September I believe. It's great that they still run and maintain their steam power, but the one trip a month is highly inconvenient for people wanting to ride to the canyon behind the steam engine. BUT, I as well as many others on this forum are outliers in that regard, at least in the realm of the GCRY as they seem to have 2 decently full trains a day hauled by F40ph's.

Anyways, on our journey from Vegas to Hoover Dam to Williams, AZ we stopped at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City to have a look around. The train was running, pulled by UP GP30 844, but did not ride because it was diesel power. Had steam been available, we would have much more likely been inclined to stop and ride.

Here in Knoxville, we have the Three Rivers Rambler tourist railroad, run certain times a year by the local shortline known as the Knoxville and Holston River Railroad. They own 3 different steam locomotives. Southern Railway 154 (operational), Washington and Lincolnton 203 (1472 expired 2015) and San Antonio and Aransas Pass 60 (Under restoration). The owner of the line and Gulf and Ohio itself is a big steam buff and is the reason for the tourist railroad running. However, a recent conversation with an authority on the Three Rivers Rambler said that last year (2018) was their largest, most successful operating year yet. They ran no spring or summer trains and only used steam engine 154 on 15 or so of the 30+ Christmas trains (most of which sold out). He expressed some sadness that using just the diesel didn't show any drop off in ridership but was excited for the extreme interest (3 more passenger cars have been added to the trains over the last 2 years). We talked for a minute and I said that at some point, people become used to the steam engine and even take it for granted. Running diesels for 75% of the trains last year may have worked then, but may not work as well next year. Either way steam is here to stay in Knoxville for many many years to come.

Some people are out for a train ride, don't care what is pulling it, others like myself are out to ride behind steam and enjoy the sights smells and sounds. In order for steam to be more popular, the general public needs to know how big of a deal it is that there is a 100+ year old machine pulling the train and doing the job it was meant to do to the same, if not more harsh, standards today.

Steam is wildly popular, at the GCRY there were 100+ people standing at the depot videoing the steam engine as it backed into Williams. Then they stuck around and took pictures and selfies and more videos. The next day when it was diesel power, not one person took a picture and the only people at the front of the train were admiring the cold, dead steam locomotive on the adjacent display track.

Sorry for the long windedness, my $3.47 worth.

-154


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 3:01 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 450
“the vast majority of people can not tell the difference.”

I reply with -

”It’s very easy to think “Oh people aren’t going to get that.” This sentiment is often used in business to excuse substandard work. I happen to think it’s the height of arrogance to assert that other theoretical “people” aren’t going to understand something that you yourself understand. Like you are better or something. That means your theoretical world of people is full of dumb people. Mine is full of smart, curious people.” - Disney Imagineering Vice President, Creative and executive designer Joe Rhode


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 9:47 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1834
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
There is more than enough solid evidence that clearly shows that if it's all about net profits then diesel wins big time every time. The capex and opex of steam are at least 25% ( conservatively) higher than diesel. Steam also demands a substantially more sophisticated maintenance capability and far better long range planning.

If your main objective is to maximize your net income then diesel only is the answer.

The reason the NH&I keeps steam running on special occasions is because the CEO/Owner is a steam lover, pure and simple.

Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:02 am 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
Posts: 185
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Speaking of NH&I 40, is that top-feed check valve new?

If yes, G. J. Churchward would be proud and it would show not only is NH&I running the engine, they're improving it.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:04 am 

Joined: Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:33 am
Posts: 24
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
“the vast majority of people can not tell the difference.”

I reply with -

”It’s very easy to think “Oh people aren’t going to get that.” This sentiment is often used in business to excuse substandard work. I happen to think it’s the height of arrogance to assert that other theoretical “people” aren’t going to understand something that you yourself understand. Like you are better or something. That means your theoretical world of people is full of dumb people. Mine is full of smart, curious people.” - Disney Imagineering Vice President, Creative and executive designer Joe Rhode


Ah yes Joe Rhode, master of that distracting ear everytime I see him interviewed. :P

That is a brilliant quote though!


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:53 am 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:18 am
Posts: 568
Location: Wall, NJ
I have avoided chiming in, but unless I missed it, one key point is missing here. Yes, from a bottom line view point, diesel probably wins all day long. Its just cheaper, less complicated, and easier.

To me the key point is that steam brings in a different kind of volunteer, or perhaps generates an increase in quality volunteers. There is an environment that steam brings, hard to put my finger on it really, but would the WW&F volunteer events be as wildly staffed from people around the globe if bull dozers, tractors, and diesel locomotives were used rather than a steam locomotive or two? Is the romance of steam a key part in generating that crew a couple of times a year? I think it is.

There is more to steam than what the paying customer might see and the bottom line. To me steam brings a different kind of volunteer, even an increase in the number of volunteers, along with an increase in total donated hours by volunteers.


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:56 am 

Joined: Wed Aug 25, 2004 11:16 am
Posts: 646
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
“the vast majority of people can not tell the difference.”

I reply with -

”It’s very easy to think “Oh people aren’t going to get that.” This sentiment is often used in business to excuse substandard work. I happen to think it’s the height of arrogance to assert that other theoretical “people” aren’t going to understand something that you yourself understand. Like you are better or something. That means your theoretical world of people is full of dumb people. Mine is full of smart, curious people.” - Disney Imagineering Vice President, Creative and executive designer Joe Rhode


I never said the general public was stupid like a previous thread that you were on the fence on. What I stated was the observations of working eight years at GCR and two years at the NN as well as other experiences. The general understanding of railroading and the biases about it have been driven by many factors including the "correct" engineers outfit or locomotive fuel based on hollywood reality including Disney movies.

I have heard people assume it was a steam engine because of steam heat from as steam heat generator or not a real steam locomotive because it burned oil. Many will take a lesson on history if you offer it but it takes both parties comming together to educate the public. The bigger issue in educating the public is the time it takes to educate them.

Robby Peartree


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:35 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5679
Location: southeastern USA
Well, we're getting confused here. The inquiry about economic impact I think was more to do with additional visitation to the local attraction mix in general, this attraction in particular, rather than the fact that it will cost more to run. Nobody in a position of authority in this industry doesn't already understand that. Any who don't deserve to Darwin themselves out quickly.

Volunteers may or may not be assets. Customers are.

So, absolute quantification isn't possible but steam may well draw more but i think you'd have to run it for a season to find out how much more - and I mean REALLY do it like you mean it, not a half-assed, little advertised, make it up as we go along trial but a well conceived and executed marketing effort supported by a well produced audience experience. Hence my advice to start with leased equipment rather than invest heavily before you have learned.

_________________
Santayana: "He who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it."
Corollary: "He who does is doomed to watch those who don't repeat it anyway."


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 12:30 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 450
Yes Dave we are all veering off topic a bit...

As I and Kevin mentioned several posts above, Swain County, home of Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, raised their taxes so GSMR could restore #1702 and install a turntable. They expected up to 20% more riders on the train (which seems realistic, WMSR is supposedly 20% down, and NNRY claimed a 30% loss of riders on a year they didn’t run steam). They of course were doing this for their own good, to bring in more visitors and more money to the town. They’ve been running steam for a few years now, they probably have an idea of how that has turned out.

That’s the only group I’m aware of that has looked into the economic impact for a community of running steam.

Does the Eureka operations bring in more people to the museum and to the community? Is it advertised well?


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 1:01 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 450
“There is more than enough solid evidence that clearly shows that if it's all about net profits then diesel wins big time every time.“ - Ross

I don’t see that at all.

Just because Steam costs more to run, doesn’t always mean diesel is best for net profits. Business is way more complicated than that.

Every operation is unique and will profit differently from steam. It’s also more than just the ticket sales... does steam increase attendance at all? Well that’s more people buying gifts and food and also buying food in the towns, and buying gas on their way out of town and possibly spending the night.

I also have a feeling that the people that come for steam are more likely to be coming from out of town. So again possibly spending the night and eating at restaurants and coffee shops in the town. I know when I go to Durango, the people in the coffee shops learn my name before I leave town. That’s the economic impact that Randy was asking about I think. And if the town sees that increase it’s a good thing for the railroad as they will get more community support etc.

I’m in no way suggesting steam is always the best business answer, but I disagree that diesel always is as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 2:53 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:55 pm
Posts: 732
Location: Warren, PA
Brother Dave is on to something here that needs expanded on.

Lots of people are talking about the bottom line; for a railroad museum or non-profit we're just hoping not to drive people financially off into a cliff. No profit motive intended.

Not necessarily speaking diesel vs. steam, but any impact analysis on an excursion railroad leans heavily on visitation impact an never on the bottom line; i.e. if you're building your case you're not expected to run at a loss, but you are expecting lots of butts in seats. So if your choice is a bottom line with 10,000 riders and zero net, vs. 20,000 riders and a zero net, for impact purposes on a publicly-assisted project the answer is ALWAYS the second one. If you're depending on public support for grants, capital funding, budgets etc., you need to maximize that impact to the best of your ability.

And that is an issue. Working with an unnamed operation (nonprofit) did about 18,000 with Day out with Thomas on a publicly-owned corridor. They absolutely packed the community, every hotel room, every restaurant. Surveys came back positive. Front page news. Bottom line to the organization though was a disappointing break-even. From the railroad's standpoint, it was a lot of blood and sweat that didn't pay off. But from the public standpoint, it was gangbusters, and they were more than disappointed that the railroad decided to subsequently drop it. That relationship on impact to public support - like a museum - is getting lost in the discussion solely focused on the bottom line. Good for you if you aren't subject to that, but in this case I suspect they very much are.

So years later they are after more public support for a capital project. Hmmmm.


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 3:25 pm 

Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2004 10:54 am
Posts: 930
Location: Tucson, Arizona
You also have to consider the purpose of the ride. The Grand Canyon Railway is an outlier that really has no equal comparison in the preservation community. It's primary purpose has always been to transport people to the big attraction-the Grand Canyon. Only recently has the train itself become an attraction of sorts. The bulk of the people take the train simply because of the convenience. You don't have to pay for parking, park admission or deal with the hassle of an automobile at the park. Any developments that will occur with the GC will likely be to increase capacity, as the park facilities are at maximum capacity. At least for the Grand Canyon, locomotive power really has no discernable positive economic impact, but as I say, they are the exception and not the rule.

_________________
"When a man runs on railroads over half of his lifetime he is fit for nothing else-and at times he don't know that."- Conductor Nimrod Bell, 1896


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 3:44 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 1834
Location: Pottstown,Pa.
With VERY rare exceptions any operation that has the wherewithal to last long term has got to be structured so that it is truly self supporting.

All of these essentially tangential arguments of why its "worth" running with steam are nice but don't address long term viability.

IMHO-Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Economic impact of steam
PostPosted: Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:18 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 450
Totally agree Alan regarding Grand Canyon being a truly unique operation. For one, the previous owners invested heavily in steam and ran it daily in season on multiple trains. I believe that some of the Grand Canyon success is because of this, they are the #1 attended train ride in the nation. When I talk to non-railfans about train rides they always bring up Durango, White Pass or Grand Canyon and they frequently say “what about that steam train to the Grand Canyon?”

Obviously the destination is the biggest part of their success.... and the new owners have changed the brand focusing more on a romantic streamlined era with domes and such, over the more “Wild West” vibe of the previous owners. The new brand doesn’t require steam. Other brands that don’t require steam are Napa Valley, Royal Gorge, Cuyahoga Valley, Etc. They have extremely marketable qualities about them that don’t require steam.

As a side note, I do believe a properly marketed, weekly steam train the Canyon with open window cars and a higher price tag would work similar to what White Pass does. I also think running steam on the normal train once a week vs. once a month would show a slight gain on that weekly steam departure.

As another note, Steam makes train rides more repeatable for rail fans. If I go to Durango I want to ride the train multiple times on a trip. If it’s a diesel run like Brandon Scenic, I’m only gonna plan to ride once. So again that’s part of the economic impact in a town. Last time I visited Smoky Mountains Railroad I just chased. But I bought coffee and lunch in the town and stopped at a gas station to get snacks on the way out. That’s part of the economic impact.


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