Railway Preservation News

Economic impact of steam
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Author:  Randy Hees [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 6:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Economic impact of steam

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...

Does anyone have a study or good evidence of the marketing impact of steam vs diesel...

We are in a good location with a reported 11 million tourist driving by our front door... currently over 50,000 stop. We are in the process of building a new visitor center and campus. This was funded earlier this month when the Nevada Legislature passed a conservation bond act giving our project $25 million. This funding, which cannot be used for restoration projects has empowered the vocal community.

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180523 RR Aerial WLogo_preview.jpeg [ 161.71 KiB | Viewed 3622 times ]

Author:  BigBoy 4023 [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Hi Randy, Is that a real UP loco or a mock up?


Author:  Brian Norden [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 8:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

The Museum has UP GP30 #844 which is operational.

Author:  Randy Hees [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 9:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

The image in the rendering is a mock up... particularly silly since the track on that side of the building is narrow gauge... for our 1896 Baldwin 2-8-0 or Dan Markoff's Eureka...

As Brian noted our regular power is a UP 844 (the yellow one) a GP-30. We also have UP 1000 the NW-2 EMC demonstrator, UP's first freight diesel in 1940, a Fairbanks-Morris H-12-44, ex US Army, and a GE 80 tonner, ex US Navy, ex NASA, ex Department of Energy, used for the Mars Rocket test program on their Jackass & Western Railroad on the Nevada Test site (area 25). We also have an independent Non-profit, Dynamic Rail, who has a Amtrak F-40 and SDP-40F undergoing restoration to operation.

The locomotive shown in the plaza in front is our Davenport 30 ton gas loco, used by the government to service Hoover Dam. Its not operational but likely could be. We are more likely to plith our GE 25 ton, also from the test site, again, not operable but could be.


Author:  Crescent-Zephyr [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Do you have a steam locomotive in the collection that is a good candidate for restoration?

Author:  R.L.Kennedy [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Are you saying you have 50,000 paid admissions now? Do you have a train ride now? If so, describe it. Where and what is suggested for a steam locomotive? How long have you been open to the public?

Author:  RCD [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

I thought you guys did have running steam locomotives they were just not taken out often because of how rare and valuable they are.

Author:  R.L.Kennedy [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Another question. When you say "economic impact" are you referring to the overall tourist visits to your community or to increased admissions to you place? If the former, will said tourist association put up money to gain these added visitors?

Author:  BigBoy 4023 [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Sounds like maybe some trials with an 0-6-0 saddle tank might be in order to gauge interest?


Author:  Crescent-Zephyr [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

BigBoy 4023 wrote:
Sounds like maybe some trials with an 0-6-0 saddle tank might be in order to gauge interest?


The Eureka is way cooler than any 0-6-0T I’ve ever seen! Ha.

Also.... I feel like bringing in an 0-6-0 is more like an event such as Thomas... it gives a reason for regular visitors / members to come out, and will attract a few new customers (who can then be turned into regular customers / members) but it doesn’t totally harness the marketing power of running steam on a regular basis (regular being anywhere from once a month to daily, with the majority of operations choosing something in the middle like every weekend).

Author:  PMC [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

I think we are looking for something more definite, like: with diesels we averaged x number of passengers; we added steam and we averaged y number of passengers, for a difference of z. Someone must have these kind of numbers, and then one can calculate if the restoration of a steamer would pay for itself.

Author:  Crescent-Zephyr [ Thu Jun 13, 2019 11:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Those numbers will vary from operation to operation though. So many variables. Just in their own state I know Ely saw a dip in attendance when they didn’t have steam for a year.

Author:  Tom F [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 12:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Excursion trains with steam locomotives seem to be doing better now than ever before. I know the majority of tourist railroads that run the Polar express with steam are always sold out. One thing I do know is when you have a railroad that normally runs steam engines. Then something happens to the steam locomotive, and they have to replace it with a diesel. The attendance drops significantly. I also think steam locomotives appeal more to people who normally don't ride trains.

The traveling Leigh Valley Coal, 0-6-0, ran some excursions in places that normally don't have steam locomotives. I saw it in Wichita, Kansas and it was a good crowd with people paying a premium to ride in the locomotive.

Someone needs to restore a Centennial, DD40X and do a engineer for a hour. People would pay a lot of money for that experience. I know I would. It would pay for itself in probably less than a year.

Author:  BigBoy 4023 [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Hmm, I suggested that idea with the 6925. Issue though, spare truck was scrapped, 6925 is an empty stripped hulk. But, she is a survivor and that would add to the whole story of 6925.

Now in reality, The closest to a privately owned DD40X being operational is the Feather River Rail Society and the 6946. They have all the parts on hand to put the DD40X back into operation if the desire existed.


Author:  Randy Gustafson [ Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Economic impact of steam

Meanwhile, back at the original question..

The number of operations that have done any manner of formal economic impact study is relatively small. We've never done one specifically on that topic.

Your basic economic impact analysis has the following inputs:

Ridership - base numbers and demographics. We'll generally agree that steam draws more, but how many more?

The tricky part is overnights and spending, which are regular survey questions. Would those be impacted by steam? Probably, you'd pull at least some from a further distance as a destination. How do you measure that? Ridership surveys, and to be statistically correct those have to be over a period of time and represent your ridership profile fairly.

One of the things we're done where a group seems to be tied up in knots over this is to ask a survey question - "Would you be willing to pay X dollars more on your ticket price for the train to be pulled by a steam locomotive?' And the answers MUST include 'no' and 'makes no difference to me' to be fair, because a good portion of the market really doesn't care, the issue here is how much.

That links the issues here; it does cost a lot more to operate one, it's not free, but there is a demand. Let's try to measure it but it's at a cost.

When we've done that, it's typically come back positive (enough) that for one operation they went ahead with the major rebuild, did a two-level ticket price, and it's worked. They still use steam sparingly, but regularly, to hit that market that cares about that. But at least it moved the project forward and stopped the internal feud. It also motivated a lot of volunteers to stick around; that's harder to measure.

Now, on the impact, you then need operating budgets and projected costs steam vs. diesel, those are a little easier, include all payrolls and apply the appropriate multipliers. These are line item and location sensitive.

You then also get into the one-time capital costs, which may include not just the rebuild, but facilities like a turntable, drop pit. water treatment, etc.

For any operation wanting to do a formal study of economic impact for whatever reason, the time-consuming part is getting a good survey from your riders. With a little help, that's mostly in-house work, but it takes time to do it and get it so it will stand up to a statistical challenge if one happens. A good example is summer ridership vs. Polar; those two markets may have entirely different feelings about it.

One categorically true statement is that if your operation has the 'perception' of steam, either in it's history, logo, or mission, it better deliver or your ridership satisfaction surveys will reflect that, and if it is dropped, we often see 50% drops in ridership. If you're selling other experiences on-board, or scenery, or destination - it's far less critical. The 'steam or not steam' debate continues to be one of the most contested at the board level and we're trying to help by letting the market decide.

My position is that I'm personally and unapologetically pro-steam, but I'm also anti-broke on railroad preservation, and it's an expensive enough of a business proposition that it can't be done on personal emotion. I've seen too many successful operations that didn't have steam to apply it as a standard fix.

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