The owner of the 17-mile Fremont Northern Railroad line still intends to make track repairs he promised when he bought the line from the Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad in December 2010, but the Fremont Dinner Train could be leaving town.
Bruce Eveland, manager of the Dinner Train, said he is working on a deal that could relocate the train to Baldwin City, Kan.
While the deal was not yet finalized, Eveland said it's likely that the Dinner Train's time in Fremont after 24 years is at an end.
The Dinner Train has experienced a decline in riders since about 2008 because of the economy, Eveland said. It averaged about 8,000 passengers per year and has been as high as 10,000 passengers, but the train had about 6,000 riders last year, and this year will be below that. The Fremont Dinner Train, a for-profit corporation, was founded by a group of eight investors in August 1988.
"We're not making any money doing this, and I told the guys the other day we just can't keep doing this," Eveland said. "At best, we're breaking even and we're running the equipment down, and we've had several years of this.
"We're obviously a luxury type of attraction, but the other concern is the landlord situation we've got up there. We live in fear every day," Eveland said.
The fear, he explained, comes from repairs needed on the line and locomotive that pulls the Dinner Train. Federal officials looked at the line in October and again in June, but they saw no evidence of improvements promised by Mike Williams, owner of Richmond, Mo.-based Railroad Materials Salvage Inc., which bought the line and Nebraska Railroad Museum's locomotives.
Museum board minutes indicated Williams intended to make track repairs and restore connection with the general railroad system to allow storage of rail cars between Nickerson and Hooper.
"He hasn't spent a dime on the thing since he bought it, which means things are running down," Eveland said. "We're hitting a point where I'm afraid that we're going to have government regulators that are going to decide they don't want us running on the track anymore or the engine is not fit to be run."
With that in mind, Eveland continued, his company decided to explore its options.
Williams on Tuesday reiterated comments he made in April, when he said he planned to move equipment to Fremont within 60 days to begin repairs and maintenance on the 17-mile line after completing a major project in South Dakota. "The end of June was what we were shooting for, but we've still got probably two weeks," he said this week.
"I made an obligation to the Dinner Train people up there, and that's an obligation that we will fulfill," Williams said. "We bought it on the premise that we would do that work, and that's what we're going to do."
Nebraska Railroad Museum President Rudy Daniels emphasized that the museum in Fremont and the Fremont and Elkhorn Valley Railroad excursion train still are open, excursion passenger numbers have been strong. "There's no chance of the Nebraska Railroad Museum taking our cars and leaving Fremont," Daniels said. "There's been no discussion at all of moving or operating elsewhere."
FEVR will miss the Dinner Train and the income it received for operating the train's locomotive but also will save money by not operating during the winter when the Dinner Train did. "We should be able to sustain ourselves," Daniels said.