Officials see Boulder City Railroad Museum as tourism draw

Updated December 5, 2017 - 10:19 am

The Nevada Division of Museums and History is working on a $40 million plan to turn the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder City into a tourism attraction that could lessen the sting of the Interstate 11 bypass around the city set to open next year.

Boulder City officials say they expect a 40 percent decline in visitation once the bypass opens.

Peter Barton, administrator of the division, told the Nevada Commission on Tourism on Monday that he will go to the Nevada Legislature in 2019 for seed money to expand the museum that draws about 40,000 people a year. However, the museum will get an added boost thanks to a new railroad bridge that will carry tracks over I-11 and link Boulder City with Henderson.

“There are seven state museums, and three of them are devoted to railroads because trains have been so important to the development of the state,” Barton told commissioners.

The Division of Museums and History is now overseen by the Commission on Tourism, and Barton gave commissioners an update on the status of the project.

Besides the Boulder City museum, train museums are located in Ely and Carson City.

The 4½ miles of tracks between Boulder City and Railroad Pass are part of the historic route for trains that carried supplies in the 1930s from the main line in Las Vegas to the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) construction site.

The Boulder City museum opened in 2001. Operating on weekends only, it drew about 1,600 passengers its first year. By 2011, the “Santa Train” and “A Day Out with Thomas” trips had expanded ridership to about 40,000 a year.

With support from the Boulder City and Henderson business communities, Barton said, there’s an opportunity to expand by adding a linear park along the rail line in one phase and new exhibits in a second. He hopes to link the park with the River Mountain Loop Trail used by bicyclists and to develop a trolley service that could package tours and move tourists from the train station to Hoover Dam.

Barton said he thinks there’s enough private support that, when combined with public money, could complete the project. Revenue from operations is expected to pay for financing and upkeep.

Barton said he has rapport with Union Pacific, the railroad that administers the line between Las Vegas and Henderson. Initially, he would like to see the train operated between Boulder City and downtown Henderson and coordinate special events in the two cities.

In other business, the commission approved issuing $666,600 in rural marketing grants to 104 organizations. It also agreed to run a Nevada tourism advertising campaign showing heli-skiing in the Ruby Mountains near Elko through February.

Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who chairs the Commission on Tourism, announced that interim director David Peterson will continue in that role through 2018. This will allow the new governor to select a successor to former director Claudia Vecchio, who took a tourism position in Sonoma County, California.

The commission submits the names of three candidates to the governor to consider for the director position, a Cabinet-level post.

Peterson, who joined the commission staff as an analyst and research manager in 2001, also held positions in operations and finance for the commission.

He said he would consider taking the role on a permanent basis if it were offered.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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