The owners of the Heber Creeper say the recreational train will close indefinitely after Saturday, unless the state makes an acceptable offer to buy it.
New London Railroad and Village Inc. has rejected the state's $1.13 million offer for the train and terminal grounds. And the state withdrew that offer on Monday."There won't be a counteroffer," said Kim Morris, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, which would be responsible for the train if the state bought it.
And without another offer, it doesn't make much sense to keep the popular train ride through Heber Valley operating.
"It would be much better to cease doing business, since we only lose money during the winter anyway," said Lowe Ashton, president of New London.
Instead, New London will spend winter looking for buyers for its collection of antique railroad cars and terminal grounds. Ashton has already sold a 1901 locomotive to a Texas company, and he said antique recreational railroads are in big demand in other areas of the country.
He blames lawmakers for scuttling what seemed a completed deal earlier this year. The past session the Legislature appropriated $1.6 million toward purchasing the aging tourist attraction. Ashton said the business should fetch between $1.55 million and $1.75 million.
But two lengthy appraisals found it worth $1.27 million.
Ashton said he was willing to accept the appraised value. But then the state offered $1.13 million and required New London to accept liability for any hazardous-waste clean-up at the terminal site.
"That's too cheap and too punitive. We would walk away without anything" then be saddled with possible cleanup costs, he said.
But Morris said the state was being fair, not cheap, in its final offer. He said the state subtracted $140,000 from the appraised value for a locomotive to which Ashton hasn't clear title. Morris said the state originally donated the locomotive to the Historic Railroad Association, which is leasing it to Ashton. As for the liability conditions, Morris said New London should be responsible for any cleanup. "The state shouldn't be obligated to buy this railroad. It can't strike a deal that isn't in the interest of the state as a whole."
Ashton agrees. He said he would prefer the state not buy it but simply repair the tracks upon which the train rolls. He leases the tracks from the state and said they were in dangerous condition.
But Morris said New London, not the state, is responsible for track upkeep under the lease agreement.
With both sides at odds with each other, time is running out for Ashton to place advertising to make winter operation worthwhile. He said he had to turn down a feature article in Sunset magazine on the Creeper - the only recreational train in the United States that operates in a winter climate. At least it was until this season.