• STEAMTOWN Discussion

  • General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.
General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.

Moderators: rob216, Miketherailfan

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  by DonPevsner
I was one of Steamtown's earliest supporters, and helped to defeat its opponents in Congress (notably, the late Rep. Bruce Vento, R.-Minn.) over 20 years ago. However, it has now become my sad duty to relate the saga of managerial failures at Steamtown since its founding in 1986, with a partial waste of some $176 million in total Federal funding since then.
My article is a clear "call to action" to reform Steamtown management, and drastically change its long-term direction.

SEE THE FOLLOWING URL TO READ MY ARTICLE: http://www.concorde-spirit-tours.com/steamtown.htm

Site Admin Note: This is an interesting and fascinating thread, with lots of opinions. Without judging anyone's opinion or facts as posited here, I am merely going to edit the thread title to invite further discussion regarding positives and negatives about Steamtown, it's operations, funding, etc.

Please note this is now the "Official Steamtown Thread", and not limited to the original posters theme.
  by 3rdrail
Good points and suggestions. Can/would the federal government follow through ?
I understand your points. My visit to Steamtown in 2006 with my son was my first, and for me, I have to admit being struck by what appeared at first glance to be "superior organization", as a previous visit as a youngster was up at Bellows Falls, Vt. where with minor exception, the display was pretty much static (although the background was gorgeous). However, I was taken back at the row upon row of equipment just sitting exposed and rusting away. As a traction buff, it was troubling to see that Brill Liner slowly perishing. I believe that steam locomotives are a national heritage also, and it is a shame that this fleet is not being taken care of the way that it should. Might an alliance with the Smithsonian help things along ? The obliteration of classic locomotives and trolleys is not limited to Steamtown, as this problem can be found with other large collections as well. I would love to see some sort of an umbrella management and funding to keep our treasures from becoming a memory only.
  by mxdata
The Steamtown NHS "steam-only" mission statement has created a situation that ties Steamtown to one type of motive power and ignores the decades of overlap between steam and diesel locomotives on the US`railroads. Any hobby shop owner will tell you that the number of people who now have a primary interest in steam locomotives as opposed to all other types of motive power represent a very small segment of the hobby that is getting smaller as each year goes by. Having the history of "Eastern Pennsylvania Railroading" as a mission would allow for much greater flexibility in planning operations and events, and provide a much wider base of support.

The irony of this restricted mission is particularly evident in the special events where they need to invite in historic diesels from various sources to appeal to a wider segment of the public. What is really sad is that a number of the park rangers are very capable speakers who know full well the history of the steam to diesel transition and are very capable of presenting it in a readily understandable manner. However the restrictive mission statement really ties their hands as far as what they can do and present.

At this point in history, with national security concerns limiting access to trackside, and a high proportion of the younger fans primarily interested in diesels, coupling your train to a steam locomotive really limits your options for the future. They need to appeal to the widest possible audience to keep this place functional in the years to come. Insisting on being 100% pure steam and steam alone, creates a situation where the big question is, who will be the last one left who is going to turn off the lights when everybody else is gone.

  by pennsy
Haven't been to Steamtown since it left Bellows Falls, VT. And yes, I was there when F. Nelson Blount was the boss. I have heard all sorts of things about Steamtown since they went to PA, and it seems to agree with what is now being said. Do they need a modern day F. Nelson Blount ???
  by Steamtown Observer
The comments and statements listed as "facts" about Norfolk Southern, the Pocono Northeast Rail Authority, and Delaware-Lackawanna/GVT are so beyond false they should be considered libelous. While your demands for what the CEO of Norfolk Southern should do is laughable, your desire to screw up the freight business that has created jobs and economic development in Monroe and Lackawanna Counties so you can see more steam locomotives would be criminal if it weren't so stupid. Go cry to your congressman to cut off Steamtown's funding if you wish but leave the world of real railroading out of your tirades.
  by pablo
I'd like to see a point by point rebuttal. Is there anyone that has direct knowledge of the workings to say otherwise?

Dave Becker
  by Steamtown Observer

To answer some of these "points" would require release of sensitive private contract information, which is not something I would do for his tirade. However here are a few points worth knowing that are generally public knowledge:

The rates paid by Steamtown to the Delaware-Lackawanna and also to the Pocono Northeast Rail Authority are the result of contract negotiations. They are not done by local Steamtown management but in conjunction with NPS contract people in Washington. My understanding is they compare the rates paid by several other tourist operations and/or museums around the country to come up with the number used to negotiate with. Also, the Electric City Trolley Museum has a separate but similar contract to operate on the line down to the ballpark as this line is also county owned and DL operated. Funny how no one has ever had a problem with that arrangement.

The property map within the Steamtown grounds is fairly complicated. A good amount of the right of way within the park is NOT owned by Steamtown but is owned by the Rail Authority. Many in-park moves are done on tracks not owned by Steamtown. If anything, the Rail Authority/DL are on the short end of the stick when it comes to this area.

This stuff about paying to move cars to Steamtown for a fee being wrong. Do the cars move themselves or do paid employees running a real railroad with real paying customers have to do it? And did whoever gave you this information tell you that they also wanted liability and standard equipment inspections waived for some equipment as well? Last year at the Railfest a Steamtown coach derailed and blocked several tracks. What do you think the reaction would have been if that was one of these free, uninspected cars had derailed instead. Oh and while we're at it did whoever told you all of this mention that Steamtown was requiring any visiting equipment to carry multiple millions in liability insurance - just to be on display? Go get a quote on this kind of insurance and see what that would cost to be on display for "free"!

For the last 4 or so years Steamtown has run to the Delaware Water Gap 1-2 times per year. The DL operates to Slateford Jct. where they interchange with Norfolk Southern. The wye at Portland is about four miles away. While it is a wye because of the track arrangement, it is not a wye in the sense of a flat piece of track normally used to reverse the direction of a locomotive. This is where the former Bangor & Portland connects with the Lackawanna's "Old Road". The curvature on the leg pointing towards Slateford is extremely sharp and goes up something like a 1.6% hill. The other leg is used to bring unit coal trains into the Portland electric generating station. First of all I don't know if any of Steamtown's locomotives can go around the curvature of this wye. But beyond that, why should NS be threatened as this guy demands to have a steam locomotive trundle several miles down its line and risk cutting off a power plant? By this reasoning shouldn't Strasburg demand that Amtrak let them run into Lancaster as that would be convenient to some of its riders?

I have been around Steamtown in Scranton almost from the beginning and I am well aware of its many drawbacks and problems. I believe the changes really needed would literally take an act of Congress and thus beyond detailing on a list like this. In the short term I am curious to see if Steamtown puts its act together, at least cosmetically, for the 2010 NRHS Convention. It certainly is in their own self-interest because change may be forced upon them if the national spotlight is on them in 2010 and there was only one (or even no) steam locomotives operable that the you know what could hit the fan. As I read this guy's diatribe he goes on an excursion to the Delaware Water Gap, has diesels pull them westbound, and thus demands change. All fine and good, it's a free country but when you start demanding punishing a Class 1 that has nothing to do with Steamtown and you want operating contracts renegotiated or canceled then you need to be called out.
  by DonPevsner
It looks as if various employees of D-L are voicing their outrage--without identifying any conflict-of-interest--on my statements concerning the D-L's treatment of Steamtown NHS and the fact that the D-L was not given a permanent contract to operate over PNRRA trackage in Lackawanna and Monroe Counties on August 27, 1993. Any contract between a for-profit corporation (the D-L) and a Governmental agency (the two Counties plus the PNRRA as its agent) is always properly subject not only to expiration, but also to open-bidding on renewal. There may well be competing for-profit railroads that could give the Counties, PNRRA and Steamtown NHS a better deal--financially and otherwise--after the D-L's contract expires on August 27, 2010. Further, having had a "free ride" for the first 17 years until contract expiration seems like an overly-generous commitment by the Counties in the first place. If the ranters on this issue don't like the facts-of-life, due to purely selfish motives, too bad.

Further, I would be delighted to see ANYONE "rebut" the numerous points I have made, in what is a very carefully-reasoned expose of the failure of Steamtown and other parties, and hardly a "tirade."
  by umtrr-author
Steamtown is not perfect, but it is hardly a "FAILED MISSION." The thousands of satisfied visitors it has had since opening are testimony that what it can and has accomplished has been quite remarkable; and let's not forget that the most likely alternative was a molten mass of scrap metal.
  by Steamtown Observer
I am not an employee of Steamtown nor have I ever received compensation from DL, GVT, or The Railroad Authority. I do consulting work for several railroads as well as firms that supply railroads with certain types of capital equipment. In order to be able to speak freely I don't divulge my identity. I think my insight into various preservation issues over the years has provided useful information to those who have read and used it. Like many people over history who have used pen names it is up to you the reader to decide if what I point out gives you useful information or not.

I am going to leave it with the points I made above. If they are not enough of a rebuttal, that's up to people reading this board to decide. As for Mr. Pevsner, I invite everyone to search through his various postings on other topics on this website and then judge his credibility. For those with time on their hands you can do a web search on his name and then decide for yourself.
  by Stmtrolleyguy
I know that a lot of these issues are much more politically loaded, and are older then I am, but here's my 2 cents. . .

I've been to Steamtown once in summer 2007. I have to agree with a few points :

1. A lot of their locomotives are outside rusting away. A little coat of paint would go a LONG way. The equipment inside the complex looked to be in pretty good shape, but a good deal of the stuff in the yard doesn't look all that great. To me, it looks old and shabby. Most people never see the inside of a steam locomotive - just the outside. If its left to become old and shabby, people begin to assume that its not important.

2. Their train ride (not the steam one, we were on a tight schedule :( ) was rather lame to say the least. . . It was 90 degrees, the train did about 6 miles an hour, trundled out of the yard a bit, and came back. I don't expect a 40mph ride in an air-conditioned car on perfect track, but a slightly longer ride where you actually get up to 10 or 15mph would be kinda nice, especially if you could see something interesting along the way. Their demonstration ride didn't give me a positive picture of train travel at all.

3. Their locomotive shop was cool to walk through, but not very much was happening. Its interesting to watch locomotives move, and to watch swarms of mechanics inspect and repair every inch of a locomotive - some historic video would go a long ways towards improving the feel and creating the sense of a busy locomotive shop.

4. Overall, Steamtown felt very sterile - for a historic roundhouse complex, it was awfully quiet. For those who don't know railroad history, it seems like just another large building with trains inside and out. It lacks atmosphere.

In my opinion, atmosphere is one of the most important things about a railroading site. Non-railfans don't always know that they're interested in steam locomotives or railroading. You have to draw them in, and find a way to connect with them so that they can find something to latch on to so that they say "Hey - that interests me. Show me more!" To me, Steamtown seemed to lack that sense of intrigue that might draw people into railroad and steam locomotive history.

I don't really know anything about the rest of his points, but this is my 2 cents about the rest.
  by Red Arrow Fan
I have to agree with 3rdrail and Stmtrolleyguy, the stuff out in the yard is just rusting away. Surely a little time and $$$ could be spent on pro-actively slowing the aging of these nice pieces?!? Maybe construct a shed roof over the yard? (But then you couldn't see everything from the overhead bridge; but you could still walk around at ground level, and rain wouldn't be pouring into these decaying cars.)

I had the same feeling as 3rdrail about that "pink" Brilliner on the flatcar in the yard. The roof boards are caving in. It was sad to see it (after riding these so much in the 60s & 70s).
  by Otto Vondrak
So let's talk about facts:

- Many, many pieces in Steamtown's collection. No funds and no people to perform the restorations.

- Lots of engines ready to steam up around the country, but had to drop their fires due to rising costs. Why aren't they are Steamtown on "loan?" Frisco 1522 seems like a good candidate, for instance...

- Where will funding come from for additional restorations and operations?

  by 3rdrail
I would agree with you, Otto, if Steamtown were just a "Not for profit" privately-run museum. However, as a "National Historic Site", I would think that money would be available for maintenance. For an American icon as important as the steam locomotive, there should not be too much difficulty in pursuasive budgetary politics if the right persons are in control. I myself, have always thought that Steamtown would benefit greatly by a tie-in with the Smithsonian Institution. It's location, subject matter, size, and historic value would be a perfect match, and would most likely also guarantee upkeep.
  by co614
Seems to me that rather than attack the author we should examine his thesis. Is Steamtown a "Failed Mission'???

First step is to read their Mission Statement as shown on their website and then compare how they operate the facility with the Mission Statement. Seems to me that nearly all 3rd. party finders of fact would conclude that what they offer the paying guest today falls FAR short of their Mission Statement.

Next step is to realize that this is a Federally owned and operated facility, manned entirely by Federal employees. Federal employees get very good very soon at learning what's important to preserving/advancing their carreers. the rules are simple. Don't make waves,don't get any bad media,don't piss off your boss, and most inportant of all, DO NOT TAKE ANY RISKS!!! Within these realities it is easy to see why the number of excursions has dwindled each year (less trips=less risk) and why it's obvious that it will soon be a static only facility. This is of course one of the key ingredients in the constantly decreasing attendance which has declined nearly 80% since the 1995 "Grand Opening".

I would question the authors suggested approach to get NS to allow the use of the Portland wye as I agree that honey gets more results than vinegar.

I would hope that the DO contract will be properly put up for competitive bidding when it expires in 2010 as I suspect that Steamtown and the County might well be better served with another operator???

I totally concur with the authors conclusion that the only hope for meaningful change in how the place is operated is for the NPS to outsource the excursion and loco. restoration functions to a proven private sector operator who would inject the needed savy to produce a product that would "sell" to the general public. I would guess that if a Strasburg were to take over the place they would quadruple the attendance in a very few years and offer a far superior excursion product without all the silly nonsense rules now strangling the place!!

For outsourceing to happen will take substantial political pressure and it's probably a long shot at best.

But one can hope!!

IMHO-Ross Rowland
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