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Heber Valley Railroad Receives $315,000 From State Legislature

Heber Valley Tourism

Utah Legislature passed a bill giving a one-time appropriation of $315,000 to the Heber Valley Historic Railroad.

The Heber Valley Railroad Authority was established by the state legislature in 1992. Executive director Mark Nelson says there’s not a lot of state-owned organizations like it in Utah.

“The Heber Valley Railroad is an independent state agency and thus does not receive any ongoing funds from the state or any other source for operations. I know there are several other independent agencies in the state of Utah, but I am not familiar with any of their financial arrangements. The State Fair Park comes to mind and a few others but I’m no expert on how their funded. For us, we really operate like an independent privately-owned company but are owned by the state of Utah. It’s kind of an arm’s length relationship. We’re very grateful to be owned by the state and our financials are rolled up in the state’s financials. Our employees are on the state’s retirement system, but as far as funding goes, we’re on our own.”

State Senator David Hinkins, representing District 27 which includes portions of Wasatch County, ran the bill granting the funds to the Heber Valley Historic Railroad. Senator Hinkin’s explained that the Railroad Authority was requesting $550,000 for track maintenance, $250,000 for bridge maintenance, and $250,000 to create ADA ramps and make the train cars ADA compatible.

As the legislative session wound down the amount in the bill was cut from the asked $950,000 to $315,000, Nelson says that with less funds than requested he’s not exactly sure how they’ll prioritize the spending yet.

“There are many complicated financial pieces in operating a tourist railroad. We have these funds for which we are very grateful, we have ticket sales, and we have a foundation that attempts to raise funds for us and lots of other projects and competing things that are going on. So, we will just have to look at all of that and make the determination. Obviously track maintenance is not a want, it’s a need. We can’t operate the train unless the tracks are safe, and the bridges are repaired. Those are some things that we must do every year. The ADA car is a very high priority for us, and we’ll just have to see. I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to do the required maintenance and by the end of the summer have that ADA capability in place, I hope.”

Nelson says the Heber Valley Railroad has great support from Heber City, Midway and Wasatch County. Nelson says they are hoping to establish continued funding from the state.

“I have no idea if this may happen but I’m hopeful that we could be considered for an ongoing smaller amount that would be used primarily for right-of-way maintenance for track maintenance. We’ll see what happens. I’ve learned a little bit about the legislative process and getting ongoing commitment is much more difficult perhaps than one time.”

After the economic down swing from 2008-2011 the railroad has grown its ridership.

“From 2012 until 2018 we have essentially doubled both the number of trains we run and the ridership. Last year in 2018 we ran 570 passenger trains and carried just shy of 110,000 passengers.”

This May is the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in Ogden, Utah. Heber Valley Railroad will also have celebrations commemorating the event on Friday May 10th, as well as the 120th anniversary of trains in the Heber Valley in September. Nelson said they have some other upgrades on the horizon.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is create a higher end a luxury or a first-class kind of experience. In addition to our regular scenic and passenger trains. We’re getting some equipment that’s going to make that possible and that’s a really exciting addition to us. I think people will love that.”

You can learn more about the Heber Valley Railroad here.

KPCW reporter David Boyle covers all things in the Heber Valley as well as sports and breaking news.
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