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Tue, Nov. 19

Railway sale nears closure
Xanterra still not talking but the mood is good

The pending sale of the Grand Canyon Railway to National Park Service concessionaires Xanterra Parks & Resorts is now official.

The GCR issued a press release last week stating that the two entities had signed a purchase agreement and that the deal will close within the next 60 days when the transfer of ownership ‹ pending regulatory approval ‹ occurs.

"Xanterra is exactly the type of organization we hoped would purchase the Railway. It's a well run operation and we are looking forward to being a part of it," GCR President Dave Chambers said in the release.

The Grand Canyon Railway was originally built in 1901. In 1968, however, the railway was shut down as more and more canyon visitors began using their own automobiles.

The railway and depot sat unused for more than 20 years until successful entrepreneurs Max and Thelma Biegert purchased the holdings and restored the service in 1989.

At the same time, the town of Williams was suffering economically due to the completion of Interstate-40 and the bypassing of Route 66.

Once the Biegerts ‹ who invested their own time and money to refurbish the operation ‹ began offering the railway as a historic attraction to Grand Canyon visitors, it helped bring the town out of its temporary economic hemorrhaging.

After nearly 2.5 million passengers, the Biegerts announced earlier last year that a search for new owners had begun and after reviewing numerous offers, Xanterra rose to the top.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts operates concessions in national and state parks throughout the country, including the south and north rims of Grand Canyon.

Chambers and other GCR officials ‹ along with the Biegerts ‹ felt that Xanterra was a natural choice since the two companies already deal with each other on a regular basis.

The purchase includes GCR's train services, the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, RV Park and Pet Resort, and Max and Thelma's Restaurant.

The sale also includes the large parcel of land immediately east of the railway depot in Williams across Grand Canyon Boulevard and a large amount of land surrounding the railway's maintenance yard north of I-40.

"Our purchase of the Grand Canyon Railway is a logical progression of growth for both companies and we are excited about the acquisition," said Andrew N. Todd, president and CEO of Xanterra Parks & Resorts in the press release. "Both companies are in the business of helping to create unforgettable experiences for visitors to the Grand Canyon and we believe the services both organizations provide will complement each other and make the combined offerings even more appealing to the traveling public."

Outsiders looking in have speculated as to whether or not Xanterra will develop the extra land, but aside from Todd's comments in the press release, Xanterra is currently in a media blackout.

Chambers couldn't confirm or deny any rumors about a physical expansion of the railway.

Another issue is how the current GCR employees feel about the move. Chambers has stated in earlier interviews that the current management and employee base at the GCR will remain the same so as to make the transition as smooth as possible and that the GCR will continue to be an important member of the community.

As the deal comes closer to and end, Chambers says the mood is good.

"I think, in general, the mood is excellent," Chambers said. "With Grand Canyon Railway now, there's a face to it and that's Max and Thelma Biegert. The employees have a lot of love and respect for them and they're going to be gone and that changes the situation somewhat. But, I do think since we do business with Xanterra and our people know who they are, that from that point of view, there's a pretty positive feeling about Xanterra being the buyer."

For more information or to book passage on the GCR, visit www.thetrain.com or call 1-800-THE-TRAIN (1-800-843-8724).

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