by Mark Bassett
Working on the railroad all the live-long day. If you have driven from Ely to Ruth, you might have noticed that is just what we’re doing. Track equipment is out on the railroad replacing ties and tamping the track. Ballast trains are dumping ballast. And more track equipment follows the ballast trains spreading the ballast. When all of this done, the track is smooth and looks great.
The railroad will be investing over $1,300,000 in the track. The Nevada Congressional Delegation was able to secure these funds for the railroad. The funds came from the federal government but they are administrated by the Nevada Department of Transportation. Also the funds came with a catch. To spend the funds, we needed to come up with a 5% match, $67,500.
Fortunately, the match could be in-kind. That’s grantese for it doesn’t have to be cash; rather, it could be donated supplies. And in our case, that is what we did. KGHM Robinson Project is donating not only the rock needed for ballast, but they are also crushing the rock to ballast size and delivering it to our load out area. Their substantial donation is letting us maximize the grant and invest all of the money into the track. Their generosity is allowing us to make major improvements into the track that will last for years, if not decades.
Even though the Nevada Northern Railway is a tourist railroad, it is still under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the FRA classification system for track starts at Excepted Track and goes through Class 6. The classes that concern the Nevada Northern are Class 1 and 2. Class 1 track is the lowest track standard. Passenger trains can operate at 15 mph and freight trains at 10 mph. The goal of the current track improvement program is to raise the standard of our track to Class 2. Once we achieve Class 2 standards the speeds of our trains can increase to 30 mph for passenger trains and 25 mph from freight trains.
That being said, don’t expect to see Locomotive 40 heading down the track at 30 mph. The faster a train goes, the more wear and tear it puts on the locomotive, railroad cars and track. Our excursion train speed may increase to 20 mph and our freight train speeds to 15 mph. Let’s face it, our passengers know that they are not riding on a high speed railroad. They make the trip to Ely to experience a leisurely ride behind one or our steam or diesel locomotives.
The steps for track renewal starts with planning and more planning. HDR Engineering was hired to inspect the railroad and develop the construction documents. HDR Engineering has an extension background in railroad projects. After the plans were developed, bid documents were created and the project was put out for bid. H & H Railroad Contractors were selected as the contractor for the project.
Then the work really began. $1,300,000 may sound like a lot of money, but when you have 30 miles of track, the money doesn’t go that far. Since most of our passenger traffic goes from the East Ely Depot to Keystone, it was decided to focus the money on making track repairs there, in the East Ely yard and the highway crossings at Avenue C, US 93 and Avenue F.
When the project is done 4,495 ties will have been replaced, 17,980 spikes driven and 5,500 tons of ballast spread. The track will have been tamped and level and brought up to Class 2 standards. Additionally, repairs will have been made to three road crossings and the original tunnel, too. From our visitor’s point of view the trip up the hill will be smoother and the ride a little quicker. This project has been a long time coming and it has made quite the impact on the railroad.
Down the Tracks at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum
The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is a designated National Historic Landmark. Voted the state’s Best Rural Museum and the Best Place to Take the Kids by readers of Nevada Magazine, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum also has been featured on Modern Marvels, American Restorations and on PBS. For more information, call 775-289- 2085, log onto www.NNRY.com or to get the latest news “Like” the Railway’s Facebook page. Museum, gift shop and ticket office hours are: Mondays through Thursday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, on Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, Sundays 8 am to 4 pm. We are closed on Tuesdays.
Currently, our steam-powered excursion trains operate on Fridays at 4:30 pm, Saturdays at 1:00 pm and 4:30 pm, Sundays and Mondays at 9:30 am. Diesel excursion trains operate Wednesday and Thursday at 9:30 am. Tickets can be purchased on line at www.nnry.com or call the ticket office at (775) 289-2085. Remember kids up to 12 years old Ride Free Monday through Thursday.
Volunteers are always needed at the museum. We need tour guides, narrators, concessionaires, gift shop helpers and train crew members. If you have some spare time and would be interested in helping out, give the railroad a call at (775) 289-2085. You don’t need to live in Ely to volunteer.
If you are interested in joining us in preserving the Nevada Northern Railway, memberships in the museum are available at these levels: Active $30; Contributing $50; Centennial $100; Sustaining $250; Patron $500; Friend $1000; Supporter $2,500; Benefactor $5,000 and Leader $10,000. Please contact the museum for more information.
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the museum. He can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com; or by first class mail at: 1100 Avenue A, PO Box 150040, East Ely, NV 89315.