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Full steam ahead for Creeper in '02

Published: Thursday, Dec. 14 2000 10:28 a.m. MST

HEBER CITY —The Heber Valley Historic Railroad will keep on creepin' during the 2002 Games.

Questions concerning the role of the Heber Creeper in moving visitors to and from the Soldier Hollow cross-country/biathlon venue largely were resolved among Salt Lake Organizing Committee, Utah Department of Transportation and Wasatch County Olympic officials who met Wednesday.

"I think we've reached a consensus that the train is a cultural experience for a limited number of people, more than transportation for the masses," said Roger Black, SLOC manager of community services.

"The idea is for people to feel and taste the train as a way to open the floodgates of local history and nostalgia. I envision blowing the whistle when the winner crosses the finish line each race. Can you imagine?" said Phil Jordan, Soldier Hollow general manager for SLOC.

Officials had envisioned numerous train runs each day impeding the flow of 500 buses per hour moving spectators along Soldier Hollow bus routes in spots where the train tracks intersect highways. By running a minimum of two, possibly as many as four, trains per day carrying 200 passengers each, SLOC thinks it has bypassed the bulk of the problem.

"We think the train is a neat thing, and today we've come up with a fundamental plan to work with the community's needs and create the best experience for people coming to Soldier Hollow," said Grant C. Thomas, SLOC senior vice president of venue development.

"The last thing you want is shoving people on the train like the New York subway, squeezing them in while you're shutting the doors," said Bob Mathis, Wasatch County Olympic coordinator. "What they've done today is provide a way for the train to do what it does best — give color and diversion and interest."

Federal Transit Administration officials had raised the traffic-flow and safety issues. Robert H. Parry, UDOT senior transportation manager, said there were three options to alleviate concerns: Eliminate the train, obtain an exemption for its use or position flaggers at the tracks to wave traffic through.

"We've chosen door No. 3," Parry said. "We're going to have traffic officers at 113 and Tate Lane (main Soldier Hollow entrance, approximately one-half mile from the train tracks). We'll just extend control down to the railroad tracks."

Actually, Craig Lacey, the railroad's executive director, never could see how running the train would create problems.

"Our train only takes 26 to 28 seconds, from whistle-blow to caboose, to clear the crossing," Lacey said of the train, which has eight cars — steam engine, concession car, three coaches, two open-air cars and caboose. "And the law requires traffic to stop at the tracks when we're not running, anyway.

"But we're just pleased they've given us the tools today for the train to be involved in a way that offers the richest experience for our passengers."

The key to that was switching the Creeper from transportation cog to cultural bon-bon. The key man there was Jordan, who moved to Park City a year ago from Las Vegas, where he'd been working in the entertainment industry.

"We needed to quit viewing the train from the bottom line and see its mystique as a trip to the past," said Robyn Pearson, chairman of the board of the railroad and president of the Heber Chamber of Commerce. "Phil's the guy who bridged that gap. I think coming from his entertainment background, he saw the value."

Jordan said, "Contemporary Heber Valley is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and connecting to it the romance and history of the Old West can only make it better."

"We wanted something different than Nagano where you had some sterile path moving people along like a cattle drive," Pearson said. "The train departs from that.

"When that whistle blows in this valley, it still sends chills through people. It's a fabric of our lives, and putting the train to bed would have been incredibly sad. Now I think we're all looking through the same peephole at the situation."

Mathis said, "Ultimately, these Games won't be remembered for the efficiency of the bus system. They're likely to be remembered for the interest, the beauty and the fun, and that's what the train helps deliver."


E-MAIL: gtwyman@desnews.com

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