Friends of the 261 forced to cancel June steam trip

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En route to Duluth, Milwaukee Road No. 261 passes through Hinckley, Minn., on June 4, 2016. A similar trip for this June has been cancelled.
Steve Glischinski

MINNEAPOLIS – The Friends of the 261 has informed ticketholders it was forced to cancel its planned positive train control fundraising trip from Minneapolis to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, Minn. The trip is a victim of Amtrak’s new policy on special trains.

The trip was to operate over BNSF Railway on June 9-10 with Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261. Revenue from the trip was to be used to help fund the installation of PTC equipment on No. 261. Amtrak and BNSF had approved the trip prior to Amtrak’s policy change, first announced in March and finalized in April, which prohibits most special-train movements on non-Amtrak lines and severely restricts private-car movements.

In a letter to passengers who purchased tickets for the trip, Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg said, “…this is devastating news for our non-profit organization that Amtrak would abruptly cancel this excursion only weeks from departure.”

Sandberg said the Friends of the 261 have invested millions of dollars over the years to comply with Amtrak’s strict mechanical safety standards and “we have a perfect safety record. We strongly feel that this is a breach of trust that our small non-profit organization would make this significant investment only to have Amtrak change its policy.”

“Charter trains operated by the Friends of the 261 are profitable to Amtrak and help reduce its federal subsidy but Amtrak has decided that even though the charters generate a profit, it is not sizable enough for them to put forth the effort,” Sandberg said.

He promised the organization would work with state and federal legislators to come up with short- and long-term solutions on the charter-train issue, and will ask members of the Friends organization to get involved.

In Duluth, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and hotels will be affected. “We expect to lose two trains,” said Ken Buehler, the railroad museum’s executive director, referring to the PTC special featuring No. 261, and a special train of private cars for the annual convention of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners in September. Between those two trains the railroad museum will lose “somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000,” Buehler said.

The Friends will be offering full refunds for passengers who have purchased tickets. The organization plans to move ahead with PTC installation and is asking ticketholders to consider donating a portion of their ticket cost to help fund PTC work.

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