NEWS

Winter Park Ski Train will not run for first time in 69 years

Date: Dec. 29th, 2009
Contact: SkyHi Daily News staff

For the first time in nearly 70 years, there will be no ski train service to Winter Park.  Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC announced Tuesday that it will not run the ski train to Winter Park during the 2009-2010 season due to the delay related to its operational agreement with Amtrak.

Last week, a federal judge denied IPH's request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing for Jan. 6, 2010. Since the judge's ruling, IPH has contacted Amtrak to resolve the issues delaying the train's operation, and has been unable to reach reconciliation, according to company officials.

IPH is issuing refunds for the entire season.

“The ski train is heavily reliant on advance bookings, which came to a complete halt last week,” said Ed Ellis, Iowa Pacific president. “In addition to losing the revenue from the initial runs, it became clear that this delay will result in market uncertainty, resulting in insufficient sales for the train to be self-sustaining for this season.

“Unlike Amtrak, we do not receive any subsidy for operating passenger trains and as we have stated from the beginning, the ski train operation must be financially sound.”

Ellis said the company has refunded most of the 13,000 reservations that were sold.

The company, however, will pursue its lawsuit accusing Amtrak of breach of contract.

“We were damaged by Amtrak's changes,” Ellis said. “We had invested three-quarters of a million dollars by last week.”

Spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak worked with Iowa Pacific for three months on a plan to run the ski train, but five days before the start of the season, the company “could not provide Amtrak a federally certified safe train to operate and adequate insurance.”

Meanwhile, Iowa Pacific was selling tickets for a schedule it knew it couldn't meet even in the best circumstances, Magliari said.

Ellis said he made clear in November e-mails to Amtrak that Iowa Pacific accepted Amtrak's terms and that reservations were being sold. Iowa Pacific claims Amtrak then made other demands.

Ellis disputed that there were safety problems. He said minor modifications were made to bring the train into compliance with current regulations.

Customers can contact the reservations center at skitrainservice@iowapacific.com or call 877-726-RAIL to receive a full refund. Customers should have their confirmation number and credit card available.

Winter Park Resort officials said last week they hoped Iowa Pacific Holdings and Amtrak could work out their differences.

“Ski Train service has a 69 year history with Winter Park Resort and we would like to see it continue into the 70th year and beyond,” said Mistalynn Lee, Winter Park Resort communications manager.

The resort was not a party to the contract between Iowa Pacific and Amtrak.

Lee said the Ski Train brought about 24,000 passengers to Winter Park during the 2008/2009 season, almost 17,000 of whom were skiers or snowboarders.

Iowa Pacific's decision to cancel the train for the season comes after nearly six months of planning and discussions that involved Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad (owners of the track), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). IPH began selling tickets on Nov. 3, 2009.

"During this time, we worked expeditiously and professionally to be prepared to operate the train, and have locomotives and cars in full compliance with the FRA," said Ellis. "While we were able to satisfy Union Pacific and the FRA, we were unable to meet new, unreasonable demands that Amtrak sought to impose after the point we contend the contract was already in place. The additional demands turned into a campaign of misinformation."

Amtrak attorney Edwin Aro argued during the hearing last Wednesday that a contract with Iowa Pacific was never finalized.

“Standing here two days before Christmas, I feel like the Grinch, trying to take the Ski Train away,” Aro said.

The train would have operated with diesel locomotives, modern coach cars, and refurbished dome, club and café lounge cars.

A company owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz operated the Ski Train until April, when it was dropped because of costs, schedules and other problems. The service has been offered for 69 years.