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12/22/2003



Rail News: M&A

Sierra Railroad hopes to have legendary 'Skunk' tourist train smelling like a rose again



Sierra Railroad Co. recently acquired the 118-year-old California Western Railroad (CWR) or "Skunk Train," which filed for bankruptcy a year ago and has been closed since summer.

On Dec. 17, a federal bankruptcy court awarded the Skunk Train to Sierra Railroad because the Oakdale, Calif.-based short line "recognizes the historic place of [CWR] in its community and its value to the local tourism industry," according to a prepared statement.

"Sierra Railroad recognizes the loss that the Skunk would cause to the economy of Mendocino County and feels that it can take the operation to the next level," said Robert Pinoli, vice president of Sierra Entertainment, which manages Sierra Railroad's tourist trains and film-production business.

Sierra Railroad plans to reopen the Skunk Train in May 2004 — the start of the tourist-train season.

"We intend to operate the Skunk differently than prior operators have done," said Sierra Entertainment President Chris Hart.

Sierra Railroad expects to offer three different tourist-train services to increase the Skunk Train's ridership. The short line plans to expand steam-locomotive service on CWR's 21-mile flagship line between Fort Bragg and Northspur; maintain a "TrainSinger" service; and introduce a "Skunk AutoFerry" operating twice daily between Willits and Fort Bragg using 12 converted flat cars with sidewalls designed to accommodate cars, buses and recreational vehicles.

"A key advantage for the renewed CWR is having two sister railroads: the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train and the Yolo Shortline," said Hart, referring to the two tourist trains Sierra Railroad now operates after merging with Yolo in June. "We can share staffing, marketing, reservations, maintenance and equipment."

The 49-mile Sierra Railroad offers freight-rail services throughout northern California; track-maintenance and repair services; dinner trains; diesel and steam locomotive excursions; and moviemaking accommodations.



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