• Conway Scenic Railroad (CSRX) discussion thread

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

Moderators: MEC407, NHN503

  by MEC407
As a person with a not-that-great immune system who definitely would not survive COVID, the only way I'd ride a tourist train these days would be in an open air coach. Sad to hear that those coaches are no longer in service.

They're also just a really fun and unique way to experience the sights/sounds/smells of a railroad and the railroad's surroundings.
  by BandA
I'm reading a lot of negative messages about CSRX; Is the situation as bad as I am reading, or is it something that is fixable? Is it still a good operation or one to be avoided?
  by p42thedowneaster
BandA wrote: Tue Jun 21, 2022 4:25 pm Is it still a good operation or one to be avoided?
I definitely think it's worth going! I was up there to ride on the first run of the F7s to Sawyer's River back in May. The trains and ride were still fantastic. Train crew and snack attendants were great! Lots of work still going into keeping the rolling stock in good shape and plenty of time being invested in the track too!

The new rules for the N. Conway yard, and station/boarding rules seem totally nuts.....But remember: the new rules are not the fault of the staff. Be nice to them, and they will help you have a more enjoyable visit within the bounds of what is permitted (which is actually more than you might think initially).
  by Westbound31
BandA wrote: Tue Jun 21, 2022 4:25 pm I'm reading a lot of negative messages about CSRX; Is the situation as bad as I am reading, or is it something that is fixable? Is it still a good operation or one to be avoided?
Ultimately it’s the decision of the consumer. Conway is no longer a railfan friendly place. If you’re a railran then probably not. If you’re a vacationer then all these new rules and regulations probably won’t matter to you.

That said, reviews on Trip Advisor for the railroad have been increasingly negative. When I worked there we used to look at the reviews and even respond to them. But the idea of looking at them was so we could improve the operation. Susan Logan, the old marketing manager, did a great job of reaching out to the public via Trip Advisor and through Facebook. It was important for her and for Russ and Paul to actively be responding to reviews and comments on Facebook so they could improve the customers experience moving forward.

A big complaint I’m seeing on Facebook from the non-railfan community is that no one returns emails or answers the phones anymore. The communication isn’t there. Customers are confused because they’ll order tickets online but still need to get a ticket printed out when they arrive at the depot. They’re not getting instructions or being told the process. They just pay and show up and then figure it all out there. That’s probably why trains are consistently late now. The 3:30 departure for Conway didn’t have last call until 3:43 when I was up there.

When I worked for Russ and Paul we had timetables. If train 20 was scheduled to be at mountain junction at 11:37am, it was there. You could set your watch by those trains and I’m not kidding. Running on time is important to vacationers because they typically have multiple things planned for the same day. Trains running consistently late can mess those plans up.

Back to the reviews. When Susan Logan retired she was replaced by Brian Solomon to head up the marketing of the railroad. One of the first things that happened was the ability to comment on Facebook posts was limited. Comments were completely shut off for about 6 months on any post when the railroad had to cancel the Lerro and MassBay events in the beginning of the year. In fact the entire post was removed which I found odd because Lerro and Mass Bay both commented on why the cancellation had to happen with the engine not being ready. Comments now are mostly back on but they are heavily filtered. Brian will delete the comments that bring up valid questions or concerns.

When Solomon took over the reviews section was also removed from Facebook. Reviews have mostly been negative since the takeover so I’m guessing that’s why. But these weren’t negative because the scenery was bad or a railfan was complaining about the yard being closed. One review which I took a screenshot of complained about a leaking roof in one of the Notch cars. They posted a photo of a cup on a seat to catch the water leaking in. That’s a valid review, people should be aware of that and the railroad should be responding to that. When the railroad removes these reviews and removes the ability of non workers to just take a look around, you have to ask yourself why. A lot more is being hidden there now, there’s no transparency anymore and the lines of communication have all gone dark.

Ultimately the decision is yours if you’d still like to go or not. Personally I’ve decided not to and I know the majority of former employees are in the same boat. With Russ and Paul you had complete transparency. With Swirk and Solomon that’s completely gone and that’s unsettling.
  by Westbound31
Also, for anyone who has sent me a private message, I am not yet able to respond to them as my profile is still too new on the forums. Once I get permission I will respond to private messages.
  by Pat Fahey
Hi Westbound 31
I have a question for you, what is the date of the photo, of the Dome Car Hitting the beam in the roundhouse. Also again I want to Thank you, for all the information you have posted on the railroad. Pat.
  by NHV 669
Pat, I believe it was a year ago this week, based upon a search of this thread.
  by NHN503
NHV 669 wrote: Fri Jun 24, 2022 11:09 am Pat, I believe it was a year ago this week, based upon a search of this thread.
There was a second incident.
BandA wrote: Tue Jun 21, 2022 4:25 pm I'm reading a lot of negative messages about CSRX; Is the situation as bad as I am reading, or is it something that is fixable? Is it still a good operation or one to be avoided?
Its 100% fixable and a management issue. While there were quirks with Russ and Paul it ran like a well oiled machine. It was a night and day difference when Dave came along and there were major lack of "Safety Culture" issues which ultimately was the reason why I and others left. Bring in a top down new ownership and that place can thrive.

The Valley has been packed, and it was during Covid. There was no lul here at all, to the detriment of us residents, so there's no reason other than lack of employees and poor management as to why the schedule is the way it is.
  by NHV 669
They've apparently put 7470 on the west end of the Valley train to lead the trips back to N. Conway today.
  by NHV 669
Nope, just sharing what was posted to the CSRX Instagram.

I did pass by the station twice today on an unrelated trip, 7470 was steaming in place on both sightings.
  by ConwayScenic252
I rode the Mountaineer last Thursday. The valley train was about 20 minutes late. The platform has still been closed for two years now. Thankfully the model rail house was open. After that I saw #255, still in its VTR red, pull into the station with the “1920’s Era Consist” which featured no dining car, a dome, and a random notch coach. Very authentic. Then it left to go back to Conway instead of the usual continuation to Sawyer’s. There’s only one Sawyer’s train now and three Conway trips. Every 5 minutes the announcer would say “10 minutes!” and finally the train left. #216, the infamous ticking time bomb pulled in with the consist. Rode in the CP Reed. Doors are removed from compartments but still feels like British Rail. Empty train. Only thirty minutes at Crawford, then back to Conway with no Sawyer train meet.
The 7470 display was a disappointment. Sure, go in the cab and blow the whistle, crew was friendly and knowledgeable. Swirk stands there and does that. #1751 sits behind the roundhouse (poor thing) and it didn’t go anywhere. Lots of taped off areas, the #501 display with lights and smoke would’ve been nice but ever since Solomon came in that didn’t happen. #7470 would be in better condition going to Strasburg. Not that it wouldn’t be sad to see it leave, but hey, #7312 right?

I became friends with Russ and Paul in their years, they knew what was right. #252 and #216 swapped the notch train. #573 ran, railfans weekend had everything instead of a photo freight, the #7470 ran tall and proud with Court in the cab, everything was the way it should’ve been. It’s truly sad to see the notch train over-marketed over the valley train and Swirk’s leadership change everything. I’d give anything to see Russ and Paul come back. But hey, they have buses now I guess?
  by NHV 669
I should add, on my return trip home from the Conway area Sunday, we were stopped at Roger's Crossing by the Sawyer's River train returning to HQ.

255 solo, 6 cars, no dome. I would have to say the same; what looked like a half full train if that, other than the group on the rear car that looked plenty happy to have the best seats out on the back. Not sure which car that is?
  by Westbound31
I know a third dome car is on the way. That would account for the $200k line of credit against the property in mid May (info pulled from public records). I assume two domes moving forward on the Notch train and one on the valley. Which means marketing should change on the Valley train since, as previously pointed out, it is no longer a 1920s era consist with the added Notch cars now and probably a permanent dome car. Lots of people on Trip Advisor posting reviews that are warning people to stay away, it is a scam. People are feeling scammed out of their money. Solomon should be marketing more accurately so the customers actually know what they’re getting. But every time Solomon appears on the White Mountains YouTube/TV channel he plugs the “mountaineer” to no end. And is still calling the valley train a 1920s era consist even though half of the valley consist has been replaced by 1950s Notch cars and is being pulled by a second generation diesel.

I know 1751 was coming due for new wheels and that was before Swirk took over. It really shouldn’t have been in service with the wheels being as worn as they are. At this point I’m not sure what the future of the locomotive is. 573 has been MIA for a while now except for its use on a ballast train a couple months back. I very much doubt that 501 will be moving into the roundhouse anytime soon. 7470 hardly runs because no one wants to work at Conway scenic to run it or employees aren’t staying around long enough to learn how to. That’s why the Valley train no longer consists of the Chocorua. Attitash spread the word of how bad management is at the railroad and now they’re having a hard time finding a service to replace them. The whole operation is a juggling act of skeleton crews, mixed consists, random schedules and a growing but also diminishing fleet of motive power. But keep putting Solomon out there on tv and radio to remind us all of how great the place is now.

It’s frustrating when I see people excited that 7470 is out on display or is pulling a random train on a Sunday. I get it, it’s exciting to see 7470 but it’s not a sign of things to come. Keep in mind that with Russ and Paul we had 7470 running from mid September to the end of the regular season. Pulling every train to Conway, 3 trains per day. Between runs when the valley train was off to Bartlett the 7470 was on display on the passing track where you could walk onto the platform or even on the grass next to the track and talk to the crew on the engine.

Another thing that concerns me is firing the engine every weekend. That’s a lot of expanding and contracting of the metal of the boiler. The reason 7470 was always kept hot once her season started is because you risk damaging components when you heat/cool the engine, especially when done quickly. When the boiler heats, the metal expands and this can be visually measured in various places on the engine. That expansion adds stress to rivets and seams. Once the engine is fired, that fire stays lit until it’s time to put the engine away for the winter. When you fire it and cool it every weekend, you’re adding stress to an already 100+ year old boiler.

When the tender trucks were condemned and the cab was burned the engine was out of service for a long period of time. I can only imagine how long 7470 will be out of service if a boiler issue arises. These things need to be fired up slowly over a long period of time, not just at a whim when you have a crew available. This is what happens when railroad knowledgeable employees leave and are replaced with less qualified friends of Swirk.

All of these concerns are only amplified by the fencing off of the property. You’re less and less able to view various areas of the grounds. They do no want you to see inside the roundhouse. They don’t want people on the platforms unless they’ve paid money to be there. It’s an operation of hand over the money, wait here, board now and go home. Don’t stick around, don’t ask questions. Trains run late and run around a general scheduled time. Trains are added and subtracted from the schedule depending on crew availability.

It’s sad. As someone who grew up going there and worked there, it’s truly sad and frustrating to see what the place has become. When I worked there the crew was like family. There were always familiar smiling faces, people happy to talk for a few minutes and answer your questions. Many times I would give people tours of the roundhouse or let them in for a couple of minutes to see what we were working on. I remember when I was 7 or 8 and an employee let me and my dad inside the roundhouse because he noticed us looking around. That was such a memorable moment for me and was a big reason why I wanted to work at Conway Scenic and eventually did. You’re no longer greeted with that smiling face and your questions are no longer welcome. In fact, you’re no longer welcome unless you pay cash. And even then you’re herded onto and off of the train like cattle. It’s heartbreaking.
  by Jonathan
I still have a good feeling about the future of this railroad. As ive said before, I'm someone who wants to work there regardless of who's running the place or how it's run or whatever. The point about 7470 being fired up on a whim definitely scares the steam fan in me, hopefully the railroad figures out a predictable schedule for steam operations soon. As for the platform and/or employees, I think thats for the risk of overcrowding on the platform due to the pandemic. As a railfan who normally chases the train rather than rides it, I don't see that as much of an issue, reason being, I only get about 1 station shot every time i'm there, the rest of the time, I mainly go to crossings along the route.

Think about the conversation we'd be having if the pandemic never even happened. In 2018 and 2019, the railroad was thriving with the Swirks in control and then covid came along and all of a sudden, things have happened and changed, hopefully there'll be a light at the end of the tunnel sometime soon.
Last edited by Jonathan on Wed Jun 29, 2022 6:38 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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