Mt Rainier Railroad Terminates All Operations Indefinitely

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Bob

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File photo: Bob Harbison

UPDATE 5/20/20 - The authenticity of this letter, which was obtained via a post on Facebook, has now been questioned by American Heritage Railways. While most of the letter is accurate, the words "permanently cease operations" were apparently included either in error or maliciously. AHR is now emphasizing that the shutdown is temporary in nature. Additional details are said to be forthcoming soon.

Harper said a false news release had been issued claiming to be from American Heritage Railways that incorrectly claimed the Mt. Rainier Railroad would be permanently closed. That is not accurate, Harper said. The Mt. Rainier Railroad will resume when operationally feasible, he said.


(Original post, un-edited, may not be entirely accurate)
From American Heritage Management Re: Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum
May 18, 2020

To: The partners and contractors of Mt Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum

Subject: Termination of All Operations

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

American Heritage Railways Inc. has decided to permanently cease operations and close Mt. Rainier Railroad for the foreseeable future. Due to the pandemic COVID-19 and the complications with the WFIM not-for profit, American Heritage Railways Inc. can no longer continue to fund MRRR. MRR and AHR management teams will immediately implement a plan to close the railroad in as orderly manner as possible. As such, we will be closing the doors and canceling all future events and train excursions for the foreseeable future, expected to remain through and beyond the end of the year.

We have contacted our staff and have begun reaching out to Business partners, groups, vendors, partners, and contractors. We will be terminating all marketing, web, advertising, and other vendor support for this location effective immediately. We are currently working on a communications plan and will be focused on messaging our current and future customers directly. Refunds for existing riders are began May 187, 2020, and the closure of all reservations online and by phone started Friday May 15, 2020.

We truly appreciate the hard work, effort, and support everyone has put into Mt. Rainier over the last three years. From John and Al Harper, “It is with great regret and sorrow that this must happen. Each one of you have done your best to make Mt. Rainier Railroad prosper and delight our customers. It just seems we could not overcome all the surmounting roadblocks.”

On behalf of Mt. Rainier Railroad, we wish you well and hope that our paths will meet again in the future.

Sincerely Yours,
American Heritage Management Team
 
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Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
All the equipment is secure. Most (all?) of the locomotives are under cover. I think all the steam but pretty sure not all of the diesels have indoor storage.

It's also unclear to me as to who owns what. WFM is the Washington Forestry Museum, and they own, or did own, the equipment. What, if anything, was transferred to AHR, who owns what now and what the future holds is unclear. Before AHR came along, things looked grim. I'm pretty sure they look even grimmer now.
 
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Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
For those that don't know, this one hits me very hard. I've been associated with the operation in some manner (volunteer, full time employee, photographer, contractor, conductor, engineer, railfan event coordinator, etc) since they first started started back in 1981. :(
 
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Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
This message now appears when you attempt to book online at the website:

"It is with heavy heart and great sadness we are announcing, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other complications; American Heritage Railways Inc. has decided to cease operations and close Mt. Rainer Railroad. While our hope is to see the train operating in the future, at this time, we must close the doors, cancel all future events, museum, and excursions for the foreseeable future.

We will close ticket purchases through online and Phone agents Friday May 15, 2020. Deposits and ticket purchases made on or before May 15, 2020 will be notified via email and refunded automatically. Refunds will happen in batches, expected to begin Monday May 18, 2020.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause; please know we are truly saddened by this difficult decision; we will continue to work hard to preserve the history and character of this storied railroad. We wish everyone good health and wellness through this challenging time. "
 

bnsf971

Roadmaster
This certainly isn't good. I have a dark feeling this isn't the last tourist/museum to go under with this thing going on.
 

Zach Anderson

New Member
Hey Bob,

This is beyond heartbreaking, for the Steam Train world, for Elbe, for so many.

If anything starts to get sold or anything, will it be made public? I am looking for anything mention my Dad, Jack Anderson. I don't know how much the new ownership kept that would show him, but pictures, or anything, I would try and purchase to keep them in the family.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Zack, nice to "see" you, thanks for signing up! I totally agree, and I'm sure you feel it more than most. If anyone put their heart and soul into the operation, it was Jack. He was there from the start, and kept it going when times were tough and they wanted to shut it down. He did the first attempt at doing a for profit operation. Unfortunately, it didn't work, otherwise you and I both might still be working there.
I've had little involvement with them once the new owners took over, and no plans of any kind have been announced aside from what you see above. I'm guessing the short term plan will look a lot like winter shutdown?
As for items mentioning Jack, I can't really recall anything. I mean obviously the entire place has his mark on it, he built the operation, the shops and restored many of the locomotives. So, in a way, his presence is pretty much everywhere up there. But I can't recall anything specific that you could look at and say it was his. For me, the thing I identify him with most is the #5, even though the geared engines were restored and maintained by him too. The #5 was the main loco for so long, it's just kind of the signature artifact.
I'll keep you posted on anything I find out.
 

Zach Anderson

New Member
Zack, nice to "see" you, thanks for signing up! I totally agree, and I'm sure you feel it more than most. If anyone put their heart and soul into the operation, it was Jack. He was there from the start, and kept it going when times were tough and they wanted to shut it down. He did the first attempt at doing a for profit operation. Unfortunately, it didn't work, otherwise you and I both might still be working there.
I've had little involvement with them once the new owners took over, and no plans of any kind have been announced aside from what you see above. I'm guessing the short term plan will look a lot like winter shutdown?
As for items mentioning Jack, I can't really recall anything. I mean obviously the entire place has his mark on it, he built the operation, the shops and restored many of the locomotives. So, in a way, his presence is pretty much everywhere up there. But I can't recall anything specific that you could look at and say it was his. For me, the thing I identify him with most is the #5, even though the geared engines were restored and maintained by him too. The #5 was the main loco for so long, it's just kind of the signature artifact.
I'll keep you posted on anything I find out.
You are so right about the #5, it was THE engine, and it was the icon of the railroad for so long. The memories in that cab, if only it could share them. I will look back fondly on all those memories, on all the people, like yourself, involved. What a lucky life to have being born into that, I just wish I had 10% of the mechanical knowledge and skill my dad had.

While full of sadness at this news, I will look back in fondness. Sadness shows what is lost meant something, and I can find happiness in that loss.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Yes, that's why the #5 is so much of a symbol of him.

I have a wedding photo taken in front of #5. Right before we departed with the wedding reception on board the train, Jack and Carol's wedding gift to me, and he was best man. Carol also arranged my first date with Deb, on the dinner train. So, uh, yeah, it's been a rather huge part of my life for 40 years now.
 

Stenzig

New Member
We live nearby Elbe. What is the back story? We’ve heard it was Sold and was going to be moved to Eatonville? We ride the train at least 3-5 times a year there. We love the whistle we hear from our home. Polar Express is loved by so many!!! My children are very sad to hear this! How come no one has posted a Fundraiser for this train online? How much funding is needed to keep this line going?
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
We live nearby Elbe. What is the back story? We’ve heard it was Sold and was going to be moved to Eatonville? We ride the train at least 3-5 times a year there. We love the whistle we hear from our home. Polar Express is loved by so many!!! My children are very sad to hear this! How come no one has posted a Fundraiser for this train online? How much funding is needed to keep this line going?
I don't know the details, especially the financial and ownership details, which are what matter most at the moment. I'm sure those who do won't be posting them publicly.

They did have plan to build a station in Eatonville, and I understand they may have purchased property there. The goal was to do trips from Eatonville to the Museum in Mineral, spend some time there and then return. Make it a day long destination trip, like the Durango and Silverton is now.

It would have been a really neat operation, had it happened. We used to do a 4 hour dinner train to Eatonville and back, and with a bit of track work, they could easily make to Mineral in less than 2-1/2 hours. So maybe an overall trip of say 7 to 8 hours, lunch at Mineral, that sort of thing. Lots of potential, had they been able to make it work.

As for a GoFundMe? Well, the funds needed are far above that sort of fund raising. I don't know specifics, but have no doubt we're talking millions.
 

deltabravo

Member
Sad news for sure. I remember when MRSR first operated. I also remember the first time I saw Climax #91... Spring of 1981 or 1982, I was in school when the train went by in Tacoma. The tracks went right by the school.

One of my favorite times was doing a bunch of video during an open house which was in 2001. Here's some of that video:
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Sad news for sure. I remember when MRSR first operated. I also remember the first time I saw Climax #91... Spring of 1981 or 1982, I was in school when the train went by in Tacoma. The tracks went right by the school.

One of my favorite times was doing a bunch of video during an open house which was in 2001. Here's some of that video:
Nice video! Glad you enjoyed the special events. I was the conductor and/or event coordinator for just about all of the railfan and photography events.

We did some amazing stuff, ran a Shay, Heisler and Climax together in one train, on another trip we ran 5 steam locomotives on one train. A fun one was the debut of the 2-8-2 #17, a total surprise back in those pre-internet days when you could keep things quiet. We did a 3 engine runby at Mineral and while that was going on, the coaches were parked out of site and they quietly swapped the F9 for the 2-8-2T. When it was all done, I radio'd "Harold, bring the train back up!" and he came storming up the hill with the 17, to the surprise of most of the passengers.

Jack Anderson loved to do some special surprise at each of the events. A new engine, or a trip down an unexpected section of track, or a runby in a new location. He always gave you more than you expected. Damn, I sure miss him...
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
In the interest of fair and accurate reporting, here's the official statement from the railroad:


Because of operating difficulties caused by restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, American Heritage Railways has temporarily ceased operations of another one of its historical railroads, the Mt. Rainier Railroad, for the foreseeable future. (emphasis added)

John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways, said it is unclear when the Mt. Rainier Railroad would resume operation. American Heritage Railways also owns the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which is expected to begin making limited runs to Cascade Canyon in June.
 

Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Another update:
American Heritage says it will work to find a new owner for Mount Rainier Scenic


“It is with great regret and sorrow we make this announcement today, as everyone associated with this historic railroad has worked extremely hard to make it prosper and delight guests from all over the world,” said John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways, Inc. “With still many financial and operational unknowns to work through, AHR will announce further details in the near future regarding its plans for the facility, including finding a new owner and overseeing the divestiture of its famed locomotives and other important infrastructure assets. In the meantime, we wish to thank all of our loyal employees and volunteers who helped us celebrate the rich industrial history of the Pacific Northwest’s late 19th and early 20th-century settlement and growth.”
 
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Bob

Forum Host
Staff member
Well, they sure got the headline right...

UPDATE: Confusion Surrounds Closure of Washington’s Mt. Rainier Railroad


On Monday, American Heritage Railways announced on its website that it was closing the Mt. Rainier Railroad because of the “COVID-19 pandemic and other complications.” The announcement set off a series of conflicting rumors — fueled by the public release of an internal staff memo — that the railroad was being permanently closed. On Tuesday, general manager John Harper (son of owner Al Harper) told a newspaper that the memo was fake and that the railroad would eventually resume operations. But on Wednesday, the company issued a press release clarifying its earlier announcement and stating that it was looking at selling the railroad.
 

BTWise

New Member
Hey Bob,

This is beyond heartbreaking, for the Steam Train world, for Elbe, for so many.

If anything starts to get sold or anything, will it be made public? I am looking for anything mention my Dad, Jack Anderson. I don't know how much the new ownership kept that would show him, but pictures, or anything, I would try and purchase to keep them in the family.
I know we have a couple of really nice b&w 8x10 photos of Jack posing in the shop. I'll find them and get them to Bob for you. If you don't mind, I'll scan them first to preserve a copy.

Brian
 
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