Historic Virginia and Truckee Railroad rolls on

The historic Virginia and Truckee Railroad, better known as the V&T, once again carries passengers over part of its old route between Virginia City and Carson City. From the end of May through October, one train on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays makes the 16-mile Long Line excursion. It takes an hour and a half starting at 10 a.m. to get from Carson City to Virginia City, departing for return at 3 p.m. The popular 35-minute short excursion aboard the Silver Express from Virginia City to Gold Hill and return runs seven trips daily.

A Northern Nevada transportation fixture for decades, the original V&T Railroad ran its last train from Reno to Minden in 1950, a financial failure after 80 years of service. Railroad buffs, historians and Nevadans in general mourned its demise.

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company organized in Nevada in 1868. By 1870, the first 21 miles of standard gauge track carried Comstock ore to reduction mills along the Carson River and brought back cord wood, mine timbers and construction lumber. So prosperous was the new enterprise that it pushed a 31-mile extension through Washoe Valley to connect at Reno with the transcontinental railroads. The V&T became the wealthiest short line in the world, generating capital that financed 40 related concerns, including the 300-mile Carson and Colorado Railroad, and created the town of Hawthorne.

As the automobile age developed, highways began to lighten the loads and deplete the earnings of railroads across the country. By the 1930s, the V&T was running deficits. By 1938, it was in federal receivership. The Comstock ore traffic was gone. One of the V&T's wood-lined tunnels burned and collapsed. The railroad kept operating by selling off its rolling stock, especially to Hollywood studios making Western movies. It was finished in 1950.

Over the years, talk about resurrecting the old railroad remained just talk. Then a railroad enthusiast with some financial resources decided to make a tourist excursion along the original route through the Comstock Lode from Virginia City to Gold Hill. An immediate success, the venture encouraged consideration of full restoration.

The restoration project took years of planning, legislative backing and creation of the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T. Studies predicted the project's benefits would include increasing tourism to the area, promotion of economic development and creation of short- and long-term employment. Work finally begun, the project reached its first milestone in 2005. Other milestones included shoring up part of the road bed near an open pit mine, reconstruction of railroad trestles and tunnels, and bridging a major highway.

In August 2009, the project was far enough along to offer the first passenger excursions in more than half a century. Despite the effect of today's economy on tourism and a derailment near Gold Hill this month, most people consider the resurrected V&T a success, especially those who experience the adventure aboard an icon of the Old West. Once known as the "Jewel of the Short Lines," the V&T seeks a return to her former glory.

The day-long excursions on weekends cost more for steam-powered trains on Saturdays and Sundays than for diesel-powered rides on Fridays. Round-trip fares behind a steam locomotive cost $48 for adults, $40 for seniors and veterans and $30 for children aged 12 and younger. Round-trip rides aboard the diesel trains cost $29 for adults, $25 for seniors and vets and $20 for children. One-way fares are also an option. Passengers save $5 when they reserve online using the promotional code NEWDEAL or download coupons from www.visitcarsoncity.com.

The short Silver Express ride from Virginia City past eight major Comstock mines to the site of the original strikes at Gold Hill costs adults $9 for the diesel trains and $10 for the steam-powered trains. Fares for children are about half the adult fare. Reservations are not necessary. Check out websites offering special tourist savings available when you bundle train fare with tickets to other Virginia City attractions, including a trolley, museums, mansions and mines.

Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.


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