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Grant Will Help Heber Railroad Finish Depot, Welcome Visitors.

In its campaign to offer more hospitable service, Utah's only tourist railroad has won a federal grant to help finish a depot on the west side of town. The $250,000 infusion from the U.S. Department of Commerce follows separate, similarly sized gifts awarded to the Heber Valley Railroad last year by the state and Wasatch County. The grants will cover the bulk of construction costs of the 5,400-square-foot building, which could be completed by Memorial Day.

"We'll be able to get tour groups in buses now, and the setup the way it is won't be a deterrent anymore," said Craig H. Lacey, executive director of the Heber Valley Railroad. "It's just mud out there," Lacey said earlier this week, as about 100 people arrived for the rainy afternoon departure of a steam-engine tour of the Heber Valley. "People have to sit in their cars and wait for the train to go." "It's an uphill battle operating in any sort of inclement weather, even in summer when we get rainstorms," Lacey added.

The project will include a paved parking lot adjacent to the new depot, which is designed after a 19th-century theme, with an airy waiting room on its main floor. Storage space and administrative offices will be in the depot basement and the building will feature a covered platform.

Railroad administrators say the federal grant was awarded probably for two reasons. First, because the train will help shuttle visitors to and from Soldier Hollow, site of cross-country and biathlon events, during the 2002 Winter Olympics. And second, because Wasatch County's tourism base is weak and in need of diversification.

"This depot is going to allow us to expand our winter operations," said marketing director Ken McConnell, explaining that most of the railroad's activity occurs in warmer weather. The train draws approximately 60,000 tourists annually, and grosses about $1 million, revenue that is plowed back into operations, which include maintaining 16 miles of track, five engines and two-dozen passenger or freight cars.

The nonprofit group that runs the railroad has been a model of success compared with its previous private management, which was in bankruptcy a decade ago. The Legislature in 1992 funded the transition to nonprofit ownership with a one-time, $1.4 million appropriation. "We started with a vacant lot and two broken locomotives," McConnell recalled.

Today, the railroad employs as many as 85 people during its busiest months, when trains run morning, afternoon and evening to Soldier Hollow and to Vivian Park in Provo Canyon. Payroll, in fact, is the railroad's biggest cost, although track maintenance expenses are siz able as well. Lacey said the long-term fiscal goal is to establish a self-perpetuating trust that will pay for capital costs. The railroad, despite its success, has little surplus money after each budget year.

The depot is being augmented on the opposite end of the railroad's Soldier Hollow run by a 125-foot-long landing platform, a project sponsored by the Division of Parks and Recreation. Olympic-goers who take the train during the Games will depart at that platform and walk about a half-mile into the competition venue.

By Karl Cates

Heber Valley sees gold in 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Heber Valley Railroad and its two steam locomotives will play a role in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City by shuttling spectators to and from the Soldier Hollow Cross Country Ski Venue.

The railroad will carry 500 passengers daily during the 16-day event, reports John E. Rimmasch, the line's chief mechanical officer. The venue is a few hundred yards from Heber Valley's main line.

Both of the HVRR Consolidation (2-8-0) type steam locomotives, the former Union Pacific 618 and former Great Western 75, will power the trains to and from the games. The railroad also hopes that both engines will see service in the evenings after the games pulling team and sponsor trains as well as special charters. The HVRR plans on operating its steam locomotives daily beginning at 7 a.m. and not finishing until well after dark each day. "It is believed that the HVRR is the first tourist type railroad to serve an Olympic venue," Rimmasch said. " The two steam engines and multiple train operations will give visitors from around the world a real feel for western railroading and western culture."

As recently as December, the railroad's role in the Olympics was unclear. Olympic officials said the train should be shut down during the games. But after a meeting with Heber Valley officials on December 13, the organizing committee agreed that the railroad had a job to do, after all. Initially, Olympic organizers feared the train would compound traffic problems by forcing traffic to wait at a grade crossing near the site. But railroad officials said it took the train less than 30 seconds to cross the road, Highway 113, which will be a shuttle route for buses.

From News Wire, 01/24/01

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