The doomsday myth - we can never maintain it

The biggest myth at the Southern Michigan Railroad Society is that we cannot possibly maintain the railroad. This is a very secret myth - nobody wants to talk openly about our "impending doom", but secretly, we all "know it". What follows is some very unfortunate conclusions (also myths).

False conclusion #1: That is so much track maintenance that we can never do it. Therefore, don't bother figuring out how to actually do it. (since it's impossible, don'tcha know.)

False conclusion #2: Since we can't maintain it, it's a matter of time before we are forced to shut down. (But since that hasn't happened yet, let's keep going!)

This second conclusion is actually dangerous: since doom is inevitable, "the goal" becomes to keep going just one more year. So we're motivated to ignore the safety limits of our track. After all, we're doomed anyway, so why not do one last run?

Every falsehood starts with a nugget of truth

Here's this one: The railroad is 13.5 miles long and has 40,000 ties. Assuming a tie lasts 40 years, we need to replace 1000 ties a year simply to "hold even" with tie-rot. Now our tie crews have never really learned to "ramp up" and typically get 5-10 done in a day. The rate seems impossible. And every 5 years, a Board member writes an urgent memo that we need to do something about the track, and it is ignored by everyone... because we already know.

So why is it a myth, then?

First - we don't have to maintain all 13.5 miles of track. We already don't maintain the 2 miles from Raisin Center to Lenawee Junction, and it's still there. Sure, we'd rather see it all in service, but temporarily, yeah, we can afford to cut some mileage. (As long as that's really temporary). Clinton to Tecumseh is only 4.5 miles or 14,000 ties to maintain, and we break even at 350 a year. That, we can do. How? Consider the worst-case scenario:

Paying a contractor to install a brand-new tie. The going rate for that work is $100 per tie or $35,000/year for us. That seems scary until you realize our passenger trains are making $75,000/year lately! In fact our Fall Color Tours is so oversubscribed that we sold out in mid-July. We can only carry 1800 people but we have 5000 who want to ride. Even on the Clinton route.

We are trying to add another coach. That will make us about $53,000 a year more. That's another 530 ties, or 880 total - quite close to the 1000 ties needed to maintain the ENTIRE line. It's within reach after all. Of course, that's the worst-case scenario.

But realistically...

Of course realistically, we're more likely to use donated ties and volunteer labor. That drops the price a lot. Now if you read my "1000 ties" page, you'll see where we can do a completely gold-plated job for - worst case - $50 a tie, so worst case $50,000 a year. That'd be a stretch at current ridership levels, but if we get another coach, it'll be a cinch. Of course it would be a lot cheaper to cut corners.

So yes, we can maintain the railroad. No, we shouldn't run it into the ground. We should fix it!



All of this my personal opinion from paying close attention during my 15 years of experience in this field. It may not be the perfect plan - but given my long string of successes at SMRS, it's probably the way to bet.