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9/18/2008 3:05:00 PM
Railway puts stop to steam engine trips
Citing ‘green’ reasons, Grand Canyon Railway® opts to shut down popular historic engine
Patrick Whitehurst/WGCN
Regular steam service will no longer be offered at the Grand Canyon Railway, according to officials with Xanterra Parks and Resorts. While the steam engine will still be displayed, diesel engines will make the run from Williams to the Grand Canyon year round.

Patrick Whitehurst/WGCN
Regular steam service will no longer be offered at the Grand Canyon Railway, according to officials with Xanterra Parks and Resorts. While the steam engine will still be displayed, diesel engines will make the run from Williams to the Grand Canyon year round.

Patrick Whitehurst
Associate Grand Canyon News Editor

The familiar hooting of the steam engine in Williams is set to become a thing of the past, as officials with Xanterra Parks and Resorts recently announced their plans to eliminate the historic steam engine from The Grand Canyon Railway's fleet. Citing environmental concerns, Xanterra officials plan to keep the steam locomotive as a "living" display, while using diesel locomotives for the actual runs between Williams and the Grand Canyon.

Judi Lages, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks and Resorts, said the decision to eliminate the steam engine from regular service is based on a number of factors. According to a Sept. 15 letter, becoming "greener" counted as one of the largest reasons behind the move. Officials hope to save 113,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year by eliminating the steam engine, as well as saving an estimated 151,200 gallons of water. Other environmental concerns associated with the use of the steam engine would also be eliminated, according to the letter, including the use of journal oil, steam oil and bearing oil, as well as over 25 different boiler chemicals. Greenhouse gases and other pollutants are also expected to diminish. Xanterra officials recently hired coordinator Morgan O'Connor to oversee environmental conditions at the Railway's maintenance yard. According to O'Connor, who spoke before the Williams Rotary Club July 15, environmental conditions at the maintenance yard were more "brown" than "green."

The decision to eliminate steam engine service has met with some opposition; however, as some believe the loss of the engine will cause the Railway to lose its historic appeal. A total of 20 jobs associated with the steam engine were also eliminated as a result of the engine's removal. The steam engine typically ran each year from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.

"There were 20 jobs that were affected. Some were part time and some were full time," Lages said. "Our boss is the National Park Service and it is just not in keeping with our environmental mission to continue to run the steam. We're a very, very green company."

Lages said Xanterra administrators have received a number of e-mails from individuals opposed to their decision.

"We've received maybe 20 emails from steam enthusiasts and we can understand their disappointment," Lages said. "We don't think that the majority of our riders are going to see a difference. We don't think it's a going to have an overall effect."

Other popular attractions, she said, such as the annual ride of the Polar Express, will continue normal operations.

"Polar express is going to continue as it always has," Lages said. "Our numbers are good this year."

Steam enthusiast Jeff Stafford called the elimination of the steam engine a "travesty" and said he hoped Xanterra would reconsider their decision.

"Grand Canyon steam engines are some of the cleanest steam engines around and put out less pollution than many diesel engines. In fact, both engines 29 and 4960 were recently overhauled so that they would be more fuel efficient," Stafford said. "The lost jobs, threats to summer tourism, and negative impacts to the town of Williams cannot be underestimated. Many visitors ride the railway in the summer specifically for the steam experience. Max and Thelma were concerned when they sold the railroad to any new owner that the history would be preserved and jobs would be left untouched. They must be disappointed to hear this news."

Meanwhile, a formal announcement on the pending sale of the Grand Canyon Railway to Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz has yet to be announced. Word of the sale first came to light in June of this year and a tentative closing date was set for this month. The sale would mark the second sale of the Grand Canyon Railway in almost as many years. Xanterra Parks and Resorts first bought the company from founding owners Max and Thelma Biegert in early 2007. Anschutz, listed in "Forbes" magazine as the 31st richest person in America, is involved in a number of entertainment ventures. According to Xanterra officials, Anschutz indicated he would retain staff at the management level and continue the company's environmental efforts at the Railway.

Xanterra officials would not comment on the sale and what impacts that sale might have had on the recent removal of the steam engine from regular service.

Related Stories:
• Letter: Steam's demise is a sad loss

Related Links:
• Railway works toward 'green' goal
• New ownership for Xanterra, GC Railway

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2013
Article comment by: Steve O

The mystery here is, why is a 2008 dateline story by Pat Whitehurst popping up again? Is this a typo, or a five-year-old feature? I am alarmed and saddened at the obvious disrespect for the history and appeal of the steam locomotive(s) that are so successful around the region in NM and CO. But it looks like we need an update from THIS know what's what here.

Coming over this weekend for the Valle air show, guess I'll get this mystery sorted out when I get to Williams. Hope so, anyway...come on, Editor - Sept 2008???

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Article comment by: Alisha Johnson

As a local photographer who has captured the beauty of the steam train, I am deeply saddened that it will no longer be running. Couldn't they reach a compromise and run the train on special occasions only so that others can still see the beauty of the train when it runs? I understand about being "green", but why eliminate part of our history just to do it? It just seems to me that a compromise on its running schedule could serve both interests without eliminating something so historic just for $$$, and if you really see that that is truly the bottom line, then you are naďve. Please reconsider what is best for everyone..

Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Article comment by: Ron Pauly

The mighty buck, not being green is more likely. I prefer the steam train.

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013
Article comment by: Please Reconsider Please Reconsider

This is the worst news ever!!! I grew up in Williams and I remember when they ran that first steam train from Williams to the Grand Canyon! That was the most exciting time in that little town. I remember governor Rose Moford being there and the ribbon cutting ceremony and how exciting it was too hear that horn,(one of a kind) a diesel does not sound that good! This is all about money just like everything else that is good. Why not just charge more for the steam train I'm sure people would pay extra. I would, definetly! I visit frequently and to hear that sound brings me back to the good ol' days. I really, really wish they would reconsider! I think Jason made really good points in his comments and this should be considered in continuing to use the steam locomotive. In conclusion look what response this has brought! I have never commented on anything before until something this dissappointing was brought out!

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013
Article comment by: Williams Resident

I hope Xanterra loses their Canyon contract - we need newblood - they have been taking advantage of tourists and employees for too too long

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Article comment by: Don Mack

I have traveled across the country to see a steam engine in operation and ride behind it, Won't cross the street for a diesel.

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009
Article comment by: Michael

I'm the one who posted a couple messages down, I went down to the railroad because I was in town and it's sad to see those state of the art steam locomotives, that are ready in service just sit there where they will rust, some measures have been taken, but I think inside would be better for them. There is no pizazze in the yard anymore. I wish they'd put the shay and the other steamer on display and put 29, and 4960 in storage or sell them for cheap to the SLRG.

Posted: Friday, July 10, 2009
Article comment by: No name provided

Just went to Williams to ride the steam train - and found out there ain't no steam train. Drove up instead. Good knowledgeable inside info post by Jason S refuting the official party line here. They are destroying our history.

Posted: Saturday, July 4, 2009
Article comment by: Foamer.

This is sad sad news. They lost my money, I was planning a train trip, and now excluded the Grand Canyon because they have no steam. If the railroad goes under I know the fate of locomotives and cars are questionable, but maybe the owners will see what they've done in time to save the railroad.

Posted: Monday, May 11, 2009
Article comment by: Nicholas Parker

We rode the steam train (#4960) in 2005 and were going to go again this summer, but once we found out about the end of steam on the line, we quickly changed our minds. I wonder if the people of Xanterra know that Colorado, which is just a state or two over and up has Not 1 but 3 scenic lines (two of which run steam only). I don't know about you all, but I think that the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec lines are WAY more scenic than the Grand Canyons. And they run only steam, which earns them 5 stars in my book. The Canyon line of course has the canyon, but only at the end of the line and some might say that its easier to get to the Canyon by car. In fact, when we went, half of our party rode the train, and the other half drove. All i know is, if i ever go back to the Grand Canyon, i will be driving to the South Rim unless Steam has returned.

Posted: Monday, October 13, 2008
Article comment by: Gary Martin

To bad about the steam engines. This will surely make a difference in our vacation plans. If we can't ride the Grand Canyon Steam trains there are others. You'll lose a lot of vacation $$

Posted: Saturday, September 20, 2008
Article comment by: Ryan Marrs

I figured that this was over $$$ and not the enviroment but this backs it up. This has to be the worst news I have heard in years. Please help by sending them emails protesting. It probaly won't do any good but it can't hurt to try.

Posted: Saturday, September 20, 2008
Article comment by: Jason Sobczynski

As a former employee of the railroad I must raise issue with several statements made by xanterra that I have a bit of insight on. I think they are wrong in the number of gallons of diesel they will save per year...the number is closer to 130,000. However, I will call them on the issue of going green in regards to fuel as they should burn reclaimed frier oil which is of course a green fuel...and will only be 2/3 the cost of the diesel. It does not produce smoke and is the base stock for bio-diesel fuel. The water consumed by the locomotives is putting no strain on the available supply for the area. It is procesed by the boiler into steam and returned to the atmosphere after being utilized by the machine. For the past two years there has been NO journal oil used on the locomotives. They made the decision to only use Lubrication Specialties Corporation product called Chelesic pb&j460, information can be found at . This is a biodegradable bearing oil that is fully environmentally friendly. The steam steam cylinder oil is NOT petroleum based but is comprised primarily of compounded animal fat. On any given day as much as 15-20 gallons of petroleum based crankcase(engine) oil is consumed by the disels versus the 2 gallons of animal fat based oil by the steamers. The boilers use only 3 chmicals to maintain proper conditions within the vessels. They are not discharged into the atmosphere, only steam leaves the boiler. All of the chemicals stay while the water is boiled off. The combustion of the fuel in steam locomotive fireboxes is different than that of an internal combustion engine and they emit lower levels of atmosphere damaging gases and toxins than do 2-3 tractor trailers on a given day. They burn more fuel and at times produce black smoke but in reality they do not produce much in the way of greenhouse or other gasses. Of the jobs eliminated only 3 are specific to steam. The balance were diesel mechanics, welders and evening hostlers. During my time at the railroad it was my observation that the diesel mechanical staff was stretched to the limit. One of the individuals laid off is the only person the railroad has ever had that is an expert on the alco 251 prime movers...the engines in the dielsel locomoties. He spent his entire career with the navy in engine rooms maintaining and rebuilding the some powerplants that the locomotives use. Based on the fact that all of the environmental issused raised are either incorrect or do not include the simplistic solutions I can only conclude that "going green" is being used as an excuse for getting rid of steam so that the corporation can look noble in the midst of all the bad press. I do suspect that part of the actual reason for eliminating steeam is that of the numerous costly mechanical failures that have occured during the past several years. Most all of these being the result of poor mehanical managment and a lack of following developed mechanical practices from railroad mechanical departments of the 40's and 50's. The prior CMO would never have allowed these failures to occure. I am sure that the individual from xanterra providing the information to the paper is meerly unfamiliar with the intricacies of railroad locomotive mechanical maintanance and operation issues and in no way intended to convey any mis-information.

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008
Article comment by: David Dewey

Sounds like a bunch of baloney to me. Diesels produce more harmful exhaust fumes than steam engines, they're just cheaper to run! The loss of over 20 employees probably will effect maintenance on the diesels too. Steam engines do not do well on outdoor display--it would be a great waste to put two engines in excellent operating condition on display where they will just rot, and be vandalized. (Unless they are in a sealed building, people WILL find a way to take stuff off them). What a tragic loss.

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008
Article comment by: Ellie Schwarz

What a shame!! I'm sure that Max and Thelma are upset to say the least. I don't think they had any idea of someone buying the Grand Canyon Railway to destroy it. I know of a lot of work and love that went into restoring the steam engine 4960 and the pride when it made it's maiden run down the track. What a delight!! As a Senior Citizen, this is was so wonderful to experience something from my past. I grew up near the railroads and loved the nostalgic noise and smell. PLEASE MAKE YOUR SALE AND LEAVE THE GRAND CANYON RAILWAY TO SOMEONE WHO CARES; YOU OBVIOUSLY DON'T.

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