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Georgetown Loop Railroad’s future uncertain

CHRISTINE McMANUS/summit daily news
Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk Owners and neighbors of the Georgetown Loop Railroad disagree whether this summer will be the last for the historic railroad.
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GEORGETOWN ” Opening day for the Georgetown Loop Railroad tourist season today might be the last opening day for the popular Colorado attraction.

But it depends on who you talk to.

Owners of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc., locomotive say train lovers only have one more season to ride the historic Georgetown Loop, which runs the 4.5-mile track between Georgetown and Silver Plume.

Train owner Mark Greksa said the last day to ride the train will be Oct. 3.

Funding negotiations derailed this winter between the train ownership and the state, which owns the 949-acre Georgetown Loop park and the historic railroad tracks.

However, the Colorado Historical Society, local officials and business owners who rely on the 115,000 visitors per season the train attracts say the special, narrow-gauge train will ride again next year. They are determined to find a narrow-gauge train operator.

“We are committed to making sure this will not be the last season for the Georgetown Loop,” said Georgianna Contiguglia, president of the Colorado Historical Society. “We have identified new people interested in the project and now we are working on a request for proposals to keep the project going.”

The narrow-gauge railroad ride opens for its 30th season today in Clear Creek County, east of the Continental Divide on Interstate 70. The cost of the 4.5-mile ride through the forest is $16.50 for adults and $11.50 for children.

For the past 30 years, from the beginning of summer until the aspens turn gold every fall, the steam locomotive passenger train has chugged the same route miners in the 1800s took to ascend and descend 600 feet in elevation between the mountain towns.

The railroad takes visitors over the reconstructed Devil’s Gate High Bridge, completed 20 years ago, which stands 95 feet above Clear Creek.

Georgetown Mayor Tom Bennhoff said he is upset that the current owners of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc., are publicizing today as the opening date for the final season of the ride.

Bennhoff is confident the train will run next year and for years and years to come.

“It’s not an ‘if.’ It will run,” Bennhoff said. “I don’t know much about trains, but I do know about the will of people, and this is very important to the people and businesses in Georgetown and Silver Plume.”

The mayor said a committee made up of businesses, residents and officials has been talking with the Colorado Historical Society and Gov. Bill Owens’ office. Both offices have taken interest in the issue, as millions of tourist dollars are at stake.

The Georgetown Loop Railroad, Inc., on Thursday invited news media and about 250 elementary school children from Louisville, Steamboat and Castle Rock to ride the train to “launch the final season.”

The railroad ownership group includes the Greksas of Dillon, the Ashbys of Georgetown and the Ropchans of Golden. The families are looking for another location for their train.

The families already operate the Royal Gorge Route, which has seen an increase in business since it recently added lunch and dinner rides.

If they don’t find a new narrow gauge track somewhere besides Georgetown, Contiguglia said, the families are welcome to re-enter the negotiation process for the Georgetown Loop. The Colorado Historical Society is seeking bids for train operators for the 2005 season.

Christine McManus can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229 or at cmcmanus@summitdaily.com.


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