Is the Heber Creeper the train that could or couldn't?

Sen. Scott Howell, D-Sandy, says the state should reconsider spending $1.6 million on the embattled railroad geared toward tourists.But some members of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee say the train has significant historical value and state should do what it can to keep the Heber Creeper alive and well in Utah.

Since the state offered to buy the railroad's rolling stock last year, the state has spent nearly $50,000 on outside legal counsel attempting to negotiate sales with the owner. So far, the state's offers have been refused and Lowe Ashton has reportedly sold some of the rolling stock to Texas buyers.

"The question before the committee is, does the state want to be in the Heber Creeper business?" Howell said. Howell is sponsor of SB152, which would rescind the appropriation made in the waning hours of the 1990 Legislature to purchase the train, which ran from Heber to Bridal Veil Falls and back again.

But Sen. Alarick Myrin, R-Altamont, has filed a competing bill, SB167, that would devote more than $1 million to repairs of the track, buy some of the rolling stock and provide a maintenance budget.

The state owns the track and the right of way and one engine. "We do feel there should be some money to put it into shape so the state can be a good partner in the property it owns," Myrin said.

Myrin also defended spending $50,000 on legal assistance outside the attorney general's office. "I think it was money well spent to keep the state out of legal trouble," Myrin said.

Howell said he believes private enterprise could do a better job of operating the railroad. And if legislators are concerned about keeping the railroad's rolling stock in Utah, lawmakers could consider offering its buyers a financial incentive to leave the train in the state.

The committee directed Myrin and Howell to bring their bills back to committee and attempt to find some middle ground.