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Scenic train rides deemed a success as Newport plans more trips next year

NEWPORT, Wash. – The first season of the Scenic Pend Oreille River Train based in Newport was a financial and operational success, according to organizers.

After the trial run they are on board for next year.

“I’m really glad we did it,” said Nadine Parker, chairwoman of the Newport/Priest River Rotary train ride committee. “It was really special for the community.”

The Rotary took over the train ride from the North Pend Oreille Lions Club that operated it for 35 years from Ione to Metaline Falls. The Rotary moved it to a new route from Newport to Dalkena.

Rotary members had said they knew it would be a challenge. They had to make enough to pay for expenses and provide the volunteers needed for the 28 trips during the fall and summer. The 24-mile round trip takes an hour and a half. They said they would try it for one year.

This season ended with 9,000 riders; the last three weekends sold out, Parker said.

Ticket sales totaled $160,000 with a large portion of that going to operating costs, repairs to rail cars and paying off internal loans for the purchase of the 3 passenger cars owned by the Lions club, Parker said.

The Rotary pays the Inland Empire Railway Historical Society for use of its two coaches and one open car.

The remainder of 2017 income will be used to improve the passenger cars with a new sound system and electricity, Parker said. The Rotary also have plans for a souvenir building at the Newport starting point.

The Rotary won’t have much left of the train profits for grants for community projects this year, Parker said. But in the future, the funds available from the train rides for the community grants should be significant.

The Lions club had 11,000 people ride during its last season and sold out all the rides. The rides netted the Lions about $50,000 for community projects. The club gave up the project when the Port of Pend Oreille announced that it was too expensive to maintain the track in the north county for just the excursion train. The Lions had also been paying the port for track maintenance.

Bob Shanklin, a Port of Pend Oreille commissioner, said the board recently agreed to work with the Rotary again next year. The Rotary pays the port for the locomotives, crews and railroad expenses. The Port owns and operates the short line in Pend Oreille County. It operates the line from Newport to Dover in north Idaho for BNSF Railway.

This historic railroad is one of the last short lines still operating. It was built between 1907 and 1910 by Frederick Blackwell to transport people, logs, lumber and cement.

The Rotary plans to increase the number of rides from 28 to 36 with rides every weekend in October. A confirmed 2018 schedule and ticket information will be posted at sportstrainrides.com.

Shanklin said a state grant paid for replacement of railroad ties on the south county route in 2017. There are no bridges or tunnels on this section, which are expensive to maintain. This section should be in good condition for a long time.

Kelley Driver, port manager, said the rides went well from their end and they are working on an agreement for 2018. The Rotary pays for insurance and all other expenses.

Parker said organizers had more than 30 volunteers working on the rides and that many said they are excited about coming back next year.

Surveys of passengers indicated that about 80 percent were from out of the area, Parker said.

“We made them all happy,” Parker said. “I could tell from the smiles.”