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Working on the railroad

City manager maintains that purchasing the Crooked River Dinner Train was a sound investment

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Robb Corbett is the assistant city manager for the City of Prineville. He can be reached at: 
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I'm sure the City of Prineville turned a lot of heads last week with the announcement of the purchase of the Crooked River Dinner Train. I would like to take some time to give you information that went into that decision. I know that there are many people who would disagree with the decision, and I am trying to give you some insight into it.
   First, the City has made a decision to invest in tourism as a part of our plan to rejuvenate the Railroad. Nobody can argue that there is a mystique with railroading. People are fascinated with the history of the business, spending a lot of money to take pictures of locomotives, and taking excursion rides. People are also spending a lot of money to ride the dinner train. We estimate that there will be just under 7,000 people who will ride the train next year.
   The Dinner Train is an existing and proven business. Central Oregon was built on tourism, and there are a great many of these tourists who are drawn to the experience the Dinner Train provides. Because of this, we will continue to operate this business in much the same fashion. We have retained the existing staff of talented individuals, and hired one of the original managers. This person brings a wealth of knowledge and background about the operation of this business, and a real passion for its continued success.
   To add to our commitment to tourism, the City has an agreement to operate the Shay Locomotive, an antique steam locomotive that is operational, and a great draw. The Shay is owned by the Oregon State Historical Society. The City has generated thousands of dollars per trip, giving people the opportunity to ride on and photograph this relic of the past.
   The City is also acquiring an open air car. We believe that there is opportunity to give people short rides down the tracks, cashing in on peoples fascination with railroads. We believe that we can incorporate this car with the dinner train, adding to the experience.
   We are discussing a small museum and gift shop at the current Railroad Depot, providing people with a link to railroads and specifically the City of Prineville Railroad. At this location, we could offer day trips, the dinner train, as well as gift items.
   We see the railroad being incorporated into community events such as the Fourth of July Picnic or the Crooked River Roundup. We believe this will add to the draw into Prineville.
   Although I could not argue that perhaps a dinner train is not the best business for a city to be in, the same argument could be made for the city being in the railroad business. However, that decision was made nearly 100 years ago, and we are committed to being successful. Because the city operates a railroad, we need to operate it as a business which means that we find ways to generate revenue to be able to continue to operate. We believe the dinner train will generate revenue.
   We also believe there is a great future for our railroad to stimulate industrial growth for our local economy. This idea took a large step forward with the recent agreement to ship over 1000 rail cars per year full of tires into Prineville. We are going to aggressively work toward obtaining more rail traffic through many different methods, steadily working toward an economically viable railroad.
   Although I am sure this information will not change many minds about this decision, I would like to say that the city believes in the future of the City of Prineville Railroad as a resource for economic development and revenue. I applaud the independent and creative thinking that took place in the early 1900's, when this community first decided to invest in a railroad. We certainly don't follow the traditional methods of doing business. But that thinking has proven time and again to be a positive for our community, and I believe this decision will also.
   Robb Corbett is the Prineville City Manager. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.