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Wednesday, May 20, 2009    
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Railstar replaced as Loop operator: Local businessman takes over railroad

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By Ian Neligh

A local business owner has taken the helm of the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park in time for train operations to begin May 23.

Mark Graybill, president of newly formed Historic Rail Adventures LLC, took over the remaining six years of the 10-year management agreement that Railstar had with the Colorado Historical Society.

Graybill is planning to expand the train’s operating schedule through December and to bring steam-powered engines back to the park.

For the past six years he has owned and operated the Georgetown business End of the Line, and within the last three years received the contract to operate the Loop’s gift and concession stores.

This March, Graybill said, Ronald Trottier, the owner of Railstar, approached him with the idea of buying out the remaining time of the Loop’s contract for an undisclosed amount. The Colorado Historical Society, which owns the equipment and property, approved the transaction, and Graybill took over operations May 7. The Colorado Historical Society has overseen the park since 1959.

The Loop has had its share of problems in recent years. In 2005, the Federal Railroad Administration inspected the Loop because of a minor derailment of engine No. 21. The agency was alerted to the derailment when concerned citizens contacted Denver newspapers.

In 2006, the Loop shut down seven times, and all three engines broke down at times throughout the season, leaving tourists without rail for 12 days.

In 2007, the third year with Railstar as operator, the Loop opened two weeks late, was shut down for 26 days and saw ridership hit an all-time low of 51,427. Also that year, the FRA informed Railstar that it would begin overseeing operations.

The decision to oversee the Loop, and other tourist operations like it, marked a new direction for the FRA into monitoring the safety of tourist lines.

Graybill, who lives in Gilpin County, said he’s bringing his experience as a financial manager and as a people manager to the position.

“I think, in a lot of ways, I’m very familiar with the property,” Graybill said. “… I feel like I’m part of the community, I really do, and I have a lot of wonderful friends here.”

He said he understands how important it is to have a skilled and knowledgeable staff operating the park.

“That’s really significant because it’s the people that really make the difference, and having people who are that skilled at their jobs up here is just incredible — that’s probably our most significant asset at this point,” Graybill said. “Now that we have the staff in place, we’re going around and evaluating where the steam program is right now.”

Graybill said getting steam-powered engines back to the Loop as quickly as possible is a priority, but one that likely wouldn’t happen until sometime next year. Currently, the engines are all diesel powered.

“The community needs to know that there is a significant level of commitment here on the part of our staff and the Colorado Historical Society,” Graybill said. “Being a merchant in Georgetown, I understand how important the railroad is to the community… . I have many merchant friends in town who rely on the railroad to bring people in.”

Graybill said his own love of trains began at a very young age. At one point he had hoped to work as a railroad engineer, until he was diagnosed with color blindness.

After going into management and later retail, Graybill found his interest in trains had finally come full circle.

“I couldn’t think of anything better,” Graybill said. “I love Clear Creek County, and I love this railroad … so it’s a good combination.”

Contact Ian Neligh at courant

editor@evergreenco.com, and check www.clearcreekcourant.com for updates and breaking news.

 



Reader Comments:
No way!
Wow, big news!!
AdiaDre 05/19/2009
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It's about time
It's about time someone did something. The Historical Society should never have brought in Railstar in the first place. The operators prior to them were the absolute best, especially John Hammond!!!!!
Martha 05/19/2009
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05 2009