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McCloud Rails - Passenger Operations

McCloud Rails : Passenger Operations


Early passenger operations on the McCloud River Railroad...locomotive #12 and coach #01 at Bartle. Photo courtesy of Heritage Junction Museum of McCloud, Inc.


Up until recently, passengers were never a very important part of the McCloud River operations. The railroad did maintain a two or three car fleet of passenger equipment in the early years, and the line did offer regular passenger service from Mt. Shasta City through McCloud to Bartle up until the mid-1930’s. The railroad eventually replaced steam train service with it’s own subsidiary bus line. The railroad converted its original passenger equipment to caboose or work service in 1939.

The railroad did operate a special excursion program through it’s entire history. Special excursions were operated for special trade and industry groups, and holidays such as the Fourth of July were always cause to run a special train. Excursion operated for the benefit of railfans appeared on the railroad in 1948. Scattered excursions continued to be run after the end of regular passenger operations, cumulating with the grand excursions the railroad ran in early July of 1955 to celebrate the completion of the Burney extension. July 3rd of that year saw three special trains run to Burney, using all six of the railroad’s new diesels plus steam locomotive #25, one of the last operating steam locomotives on the property. The highlight of the trip was the #25 tearing through a large paper banner welcoming the railroad to the Burney Basin.


#18 with one of the first railfan excursions the railroad ran about to cross Bear Creek on the Pondosa Branch. Travis Berryman collection.


The railroad’s management once again thought about passengers as the 1960’s dawned. The #25 was still on the property, and the railroad’s president Flake Willis was receiving numerous letters from railfans seeking to see the locomotive run again. Many steam operations were in operation all over the west, and McCloud management became convinced that a similar operation would work on their railroad. Steam locomotive #25 was restored to service in 1962, and from then until 1975 it operated a steadily in excursion service over the railroad. Declining interest and rising costs spelled an end to the passenger operations.

Excursions returned for a brief period between 1982 and 1986 in a partnership that the railroad developed with the Great Western Railroad Museum. This return to steam was limited to three or four outings a year. The railroad did operate sporadic excursions for local school or other civic groups as well. One special passenger trip was run during 1986 for executives of Dicalite Corporation, who were in negotiations at the time to start shipping their products out over McCloud rails.

The McCloud River Railroad and then the McCloud Railway Company were freight-only operations up until 1994. That year Trains Unlimited Tours of Portola, CA, organized a special weekend of excursions over the road, the first to operate since the spring of 1986. Trains Unlimited brought a former McCloud River steam locomotive #19 from nearby Yreka, CA, for two days worth of excursions. Saturday 30 April saw the #19 operate from McCloud to Burney and return with a photo freight train and a couple of passenger cars tacked onto the end. Power for that day was provided mostly by the railroad’s diesel #39 pushing from the rear. Sunday 1 May saw the #19 operate solo with the passenger consist from McCloud to Hambone, where the train was overtaken by a Lookout-bound freight train that picked up the passenger cars to complete the Hambone-Lookout-McCloud trip. The excursion was a complete sell-out, and many more people showed up to chase the excursion. That event showed the McCloud Railway management that the potential for passenger operations over the road was still there.


Steam locomotive #25 drawing water from the Bartle tank during one of the 1960-era excursions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Junction Museum of McCloud, Inc.


The next excursions came in the summer of 1995 when a citizen’s group in Burney organized special excursions out of Burney to take place on the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays. The excursions were also complete successes, further demonstrating the potential of passenger operations.

The McCloud Railway Company decided in to enter the excursion business for itself. By this point it had three excursion flatcars on the roster. By the fall of 1995 the railroad had purchased seven heavyweight passenger cars, and the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train was created to handle the passenger operations. The dinner train went into operation on 1 June 1996, and at about the same time the line started regular excursions as well.

Steam power returned to the railroad in 1997. The #25 returned to the railroad ownership in January of 1996 and was restored to service in time to operate a series of excursions over the railroad during Labor Day weekend of 1997. The #25 was joined by another McCloud steam locomotive, the #18, in mid-1998. Restoration of the #18 was completed by February of 2001, and it operated a special double-headed excursion with the #25 on Washington’s Day holiday.



The Shasta Sunset Dinner Train continued to operate year 'round on Saturday nights, with Thursday and Friday night trips added during the spring and summer months. A diesel powered excursion train also ran to Signal Butte and return in the afternoons before each dinner train. The steam program remained strong through the end of 2004, when financial problems forced the sale of the #18. The #25 remained in unserviceable storage in McCloud until the summer of 2007, when a move production company leased the locomotive and returned it to service, complete with a lot of garish alterations, for a potential movie project; however, the movie work fell through, and in the summer of 2008 the railroad severed its relationship with the movie company and started work to return the #25 to its normal appearance. The #25 operated what should be the final steam excursions over the railroad in October and November 2008, after which the railroad placed the locomotive up for sale. The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad purchased the #25 in February 2011 and moved it to Garibaldi, OR, the following March.

Operations of the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train started to slow down in 2009 in response to significant ridership declines. The train shut down all winter operations between the New Year's Eve party train and spring, and then dropped almost all Thursday night runs through that summer. By the end of 2009 the situation became untenable, and the railroad announced the suspension of all operations by the end of the year. The high demand the announcement sparked caused the dinner train to continue operations into mid-January 2010, after which it shut down. Three of the dinner train cars, both of the coaches, and two of the three passenger flats the McCloud Railway used left the property by mid-summer 2012, either sold to new operations or scrapped; the rest of the equipment remains in McCloud for possible resumption of dinner train or other passenger operations under the new ownership.

The following links will take you to pictures of different aspects of the passenger operations.



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