The Grand Canyon railroad: rebuilding to corporatization Essay


                        The Grand Canyon Railway is a passenger railroad and heritage railway which operates between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park[1]. The Grand Canyon was formed millions of years ago. Relentless rushing waters of the Colorado River eroded the chasm, which is now 277 miles long, a mile deep, and as wide as 18 miles across in places. The Grand Canyon was declared a national monument in 1908 and made a national park in 1919[2]. The protected area spans 1,900 square miles. Vast, windswept, water-sculpted, multi-colored vistas are transformed as clouds shadow and leave the canyon and sunrise gives way to sunset.

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                        Riding on the Grand Canyon Rail offers one a beautiful vista of wildlife in all its beauty[3]. On this 5-hour round-trip railway excursion, you can expect to see the West’s diversity of nature. Look out your window and scan the horizon for any signs of life. You will see many Hereford, Longhorn and Angus cows. You may also be treated to a wide variety of Arizona’s wildlife, such as: elk, mule deer, antelope, mountain lion, badger, bobcat, coyote, grey fox, black bear, cottontail and jackrabbit. And as far as winged creatures goes, it is possible to spot a bald eagle, blue heron, horned owl, Peregrine falcon, red-tailed hawk, or an evil turkey vulture perched on a tree waiting for its next victim.

            This paper will focus primarily on the process of the railway being rebuilt.  It will give a brief introduction to the history of the Grand Canyon railway leading upto its closure in 1968. And then focus mainly on how the Grand Canyon Railway went from being a memory, to being built back up, to the scripting incorporated to sustain tourist interest, to how it went from private ownership to corporately owned.  Resources used will be secondary sources which include websites such as the Grand Canyon Railways website which gives some information on what to expect when you ride the train. The historian Al Richmond’s book will also be a guide on covering relevant areas and issues to do with the Grand Canyon Railway.

The History of the Grand Canyon Railroad

                        The Grand Canyon Railway was started in the late 1890s as the Santa Fe & Grand Canyon Railroad, spearheaded by a man known as William Owen “Bucky” O’Neill[4]. He proposed building a railroad from Williams, a town some distance west of Flagstaff on the Santa Fe Pacific, to the Grand Canyon and traveled east to gain support and investment. It was funded by the investment house Lombard, Goode, and Company.  O’Neill along with Lombard entered conversations with the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad.  At first, they tried to interest the Santa Fe System in building such a branch, which, based on 10 years of intermittent prospecting in the canyon, they thought shipments of mineral ore—especially copper—would support[5]. In 1897 the Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad Company was incorporated. It bore the name “Santa Fe and Grand Canyon Railroad” because its purpose was to connect the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad (a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway), at Williams, Arizona, with the South Rim of the Grand Canyon[6].

                        Publicly, the railroad was justified as a mining branch to the Francis Mining District, near Anita station (about milepost 53).  Here, copper ore had been found that assayed out higher than anything else found in the state – up to sixty five percent copper.  Privately, however, it was understood that the real potential of the railroad lay in tourism.

                        However, first and foremost was the mining, as that’s where the perceived profit would come from.  Thus, by 15-Mar-1900, the line was completed using poor grading; light (52 and 56 pound) rail, and two leased Santa Fe steamers.  This gave the railroad 53 miles of main track, along with yard trackage and the 3 mile spur at Anita.  The line provided access to the mining district, with some 10 unconstructed miles to go to the Canyon rim itself.  Unfortunately, the capital wasn’t yet available to complete the branch for its secondary purpose – tourism.

                        The Francis District mining boom quickly turned to a mining bust, however.  Most of the ore deposits were near the surface, with the deepest vein only going a bit over 500 feet down.  Basically, the guesses at vast riches beneath the surface based on surface minerals were all wrong.  Combined with various other problems, such as a Santa Fe-induced water shortage, the Santa Fe & Grand Canyon Railroad (SF&GCRR) was in dire financial straits.  By 5-Sep-1900, the line was bankrupt and in the hands of the courts.  As everyone expected, the road’s assets were sold to the Santa Fe on 15-Aug-1901, who promptly reformed it as the Grand Canyon Railway Company, a separate company, but firmly in the pocket and under the protection of the Santa Fe itself[7].

                        By the Santa Fe purchase, nearly all the originally-forecasted mining traffic was gone, with the last major copper interest closing up shop a few years later 1905.  The most logical thing was to go after the secondary goal – tourism.  Using the might of the parent road, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway completed a branch line from Williams to Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim[8]. Tracks were completed to the Canyon a month after the purchase, with a lot of upgrades planned after that.  The first through passenger run was on 17-Sep-1901, keeping a roughly three hour schedule each way. The 64 mile long trip cost $3.95, and naturalist John Muir later commended the railroad for its limited environmental impact. The 65 miles of track the iron horse traveled became the lifeline to Grand Canyon.

                        Over the next seventy years, tourism was the driving force behind the line.  The railroad was instrumental in setting up facilities on the South Rim to make it a tourist destination.  The first of these, the El Tovar Hotel, was designed and built by the ATSF and the Fred Harvey Company, famed operators of the Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe’s routes.  Opened in 1905, it continues as one of the premier hotels of the National Park Service today.  They went on, building infrastructure such as the water facilities and the powerhouse, as well as more well known structures, like the Phantom Ranch and the Hopi House[9].  In 1916, Congress finally got around to setting up the Grand Canyon as a National Park, assuring a booming tourist industry for years to come.

                        The Grand Canyon Railway line was not without other business, however.  The Saginaw and Manistee Lumber Company operated a vast network of logging lines stretching east from the Grand Canyon line at Apex.  Starting in 1928, the company built dozens and dozens of miles of track through the Kaibab National Forest, mostly to the east of what is now AZ 180.  Two Baldwin 2-6-0s and a Shay (road numbers 2, 3, and 4, respectively) would haul strings of log cars out to the Santa Fe interchange, where a local Santa Fe job would haul them to the mill in Williams and then return the empty cars for more[10].

                        A short eight years later, the logging lease was exhausted, and the line was torn up.  What wasn’t worth reuse or selling was burned and scrapped on site.  Locomotives 3 ; 4 are reported to have lasted until 1941 before being cut up.  2 lasted a while longer, but was scrapped sometime during World War II.  Also, supplies[11] inbound to the Canyon rim (water and fuel), as well as livestock (cattle and sheep) and rock (sand and gravel) made up most of the rest of the traffic through the 1960s.  Some amount of uranium ore was hauled out of the Orphan Mine between the late 1950s and 1969.  The mine was actually located in the Park, just west of the modern South Rim facilities.

                        World War II brought the first time that passenger service shut down on the line.  With personal travel curtailed, the last scheduled run was on 29-Sep-1942.  Nearly four years would pass for the Grand Canyon railway while the war raged.  Once the war had ended, though, the line reopened for passenger service at the end of May 1946.  In the last two weeks of July 1953, the line would see its heaviest service ever.  During that period, some 20,000 Boy Scouts rode the rails to the Canyon in some 53 special trains, composed of 669 railcars.

                        Unfortunately, despite the booming numbers, that highway network was making inroads.  People were now more enamored of the Interstate highway system and preferred to take the road instead[12]. Hal Rothman[13] argued that:

“The rise of automobile travel played a crucial role in the transformation of western tourism. As automobiles became common possessions of middle class   families and the broader network of roads crisscrossed the nation, the cultural dimensions of tourism shifted from the tastes of the elite, the sometimes  cumbersome intellectualizing of places such as the Grand Canyon, and toward the more common tastes of ordinary people, often oriented toward recreation. . .”

                        The train which had been a source of regional pride and a sign of conquest and harmony with nature now was ignored. Even by 1927, the number of passengers coming in by car was outstripping the railroad[14].  By the 1950s, with automobiles everywhere and the road system improving quickly, days were numbered for the Grand Canyon passenger trains.

                        In 1967, passenger levels dropped to a little of 4600 riders for the season, and the decision was made to discontinue service.  On 30-Jul-1968, ATSF 730 lead the last passenger train, consisting of a baggage car and a coach, to the South Rim of the Canyon and back.  “It stopped running, and no one seemed to notice or care,” said Heather Gearhart, public relations manager for the railway. Some sixty-seven years of nearly continuous tourist hauling came to a close, most believed forever, but some limited specials and freight traffic continued.  Then, on 20-Jun-1974, the rails went completely silent.  ATSF 3402 and 3388 went to retrieve a few wagons full of recovered scrap track material.  With their arrival back at Williams, ATSF operation of the branch would end forever.

                        Plans by entertainer Arthur Godfrey to bring the railway back to life in 1977 fell through[15]. In addition, two other companies attempted to resurrect the line in 1980 and 1984, with each subsequent attempt further keeping pressure on to save the line from being scrapped.

Rebuilding the Grand Canyon Railroads

                        In 1980, the Santa Fe filed for abandonment of the branch.  By 1983, with abandonment approved, the ATSF contracted the scrapping to Railroad Resources.  Instead of scrapping it, they decided to purchase it and attempt to bring back passenger operations.  Just like the original SF; GC, however, Railroad Resources couldn’t manage to raise the necessary funds to rehabilitate the line.  In the end, it just didn’t make it, and they attempted to scrap the line in 1986[16].  Their crew, however, was arrested by the local Marshall for not having the appropriate permits.  That brought an abrupt halt to the dismantling operation, if just for a little while.

                        On Jan. 10, 1989, current railway owners Max[17] and Thelma Biegert announced redevelopment of the railway route to the Grand Canyon and the rehabilitation of the historic Fray Marcos Hotel and Williams Depot. On Sept. 17, the Williams Depot re-opened under the Grand Canyon Railway’s ownership. As history records it, Max Biegert had apparently loaned Railroad Resources some money.  Their default on the loan allowed him to foreclose on the northernmost 20 miles of trackage, and after a short period, purchased the rest of the line.  Like the previous attempts, however, they could not find any financial backing, so Max and his wife Thelma tapped their own reserves to the tune of some fifteen million.  By 1989, the business plan was together for restarting the line. A second Grand Canyon Railway company was floated, independent of the original Santa Fe.

                        In 1989 – 1990, reconditioning of two vintage 1906 and 1910 steam locomotives took place; with each locomotive requiring 8,000 to 10,000 hours to rebuild. The company acquired three steam locomotives and the railway was restored. It also undertook repair of 64 miles of tracks, and clear-cut the trees which had grown like weeds in the passenger yard at Grand Canyon, damaging the tracks and platforms. On 10-Jan-1989, the company announced that the Grand Canyon Railway would run its first trip on 17-Sep-1989, only nine months later and exactly 88 years after the first revenue passenger train had made the same run.  They made it with the train running behind GCRY 18, breaking some 15 years of silence on the route and ushering in a new era for visitors to the South Rim.

                        The engines of the Grand Canyon Railway have played an important role in its resurrection, not only as a tourist attraction but also as a means of transport to the Grand Canyon National Park.

The Steam Engines:

                        The original steam engine power[18] was four ex-Lake Superior and Ishpeming Alco-built 2-8-0 steamers, 18, 19, 20, and 29.  Also, as supplementary power for passenger trains, as well as for work trains, the railroad purchased ATSF 2072 and 2134, both EMD-manufactured diesel-electric GP7 units.  Eventually 2072 was sold off, apparently to the Southwestern Railroad.  18 would be the first steamer used, as it was in the best shape coming in.  Having served its time, it’s currently out of service awaiting rebuilding.  Both 19 and 20 were destined for a more static fate.  19 would eventually go to the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas as a static display, and 20 would sit as a display in the yards by the depot.  29 would be eventually be fully rebuilt at a cost of over a million dollars and placed into service in late 2004, now being the GCRY’s primary road power.  18, having done its time on the road, was placed aside the boarding platform in Williams.

                        The railroad purchased one other steamer early on – a Baldwin-built ex-CB and Q 2-8-2, 4960.  Acquired early on in the railroad’s existence, the locomotive sat around Williams for several years until 1993.  At that point, the locomotive was shopped and put through what’s been called one of the most thorough rebuildings ever done on a steam locomotive, taking some 80k man-hours and 1.5 million dollars.  Finally put on the road in 1996, today it remains one of the two primary steam locomotives on the GCRY.

The Diesel Engines:

                        The Grand Canyon railways are not all about steam, however.  In addition to one of the original two GP7s, the road has a small fleet of a rare Alco diesel.  During 1991, they acquired CNR 6773, an FPA-4.  Built in 1958 by Alco for Canadian National, these FPA-4 and later FPB-4 units are rare in and of themselves, with only 36 FPA-4s and around 12 FPB-4s being built (all for Canadian National).  Around 1996, when steamer 4960 was finally hitting the road, the GCRY invested in more FPA-4s and FPB-4s from VIA/CN, acquiring FPA-4s 6762, 6768, 6788, and 6793, along with FPB-4 boosters 6860 and 6871.  Both FPB-4 units are on the road today, painted in the attractive green and gold GCRY scheme.  Two of the FPA-4s, 6773 and 6793, have been kept in service as well.  The other two FPA-4s are currently languishing in the Williams deadline, presumably to provide parts for their operational cousins.

                        The railroad went power shopping again in 2003, and came home with ex-Amtrak EMD F40PH units 237, 239, and 295.  Of these three, 239 has been repaired and painted in a new silver and gold scheme, and was placed into regular service with the 2005 season.  The other two F40PHs sit in the Williams shop complex, at the opposite end from the Alcos.  It is thought that one of these will probably be restored to service, and the other one used as a parts source and eventually scrapped.

                        For awhile the railways operated a wonderful heavyweight Pullman green parlor lounge car, leased from the Keokuk Junction Railway, on the end of its trains. Perhaps most surprisingly, it has accommodated modern passenger specials of the AT;SF (renamed the Burlington Northern ; Santa Fe Railway in 1996), pulled by the latest of diesel-electric motive power and featuring streamlined, stainless steel cars which the railway had saved for use by its board of directors and for other special purposes once it sold the rest of its passenger rolling stock to Amtrak[19]. Even Amtrak has run a special train to the rim on this resurrected Grand Canyon Railway.

                        Extraordinary care has been employed to restore, refurbish and, in some cases, completely rebuild all of the antique locomotives and cars by a team of skilled mechanics and craftsmen (many of whom are probably Rail fans).  The railway’s impressive equipment has been rescued from the scrap yards of many former railroads such as the Pennsylvania, the Southern Pacific and the Great Northern.

                        The Grand Canyon Railway has teamed with Nigel Day – a pioneer in steam engine technology currently working for the Mt. Washington Cog Railway – to bring its historic steam engines Nos. 4960 and 29 into the 21st century. The three-part project currently underway will make the historic steam engines more efficient and environmentally friendly. “People want a traditional steam engine, but we need to modernize them to meet today’s operating requirements,” said Day of his work. “It’s my desire to have steam at least keep up with diesel.” Day is one of a handful of pioneers dedicated to evolving steam engine technology, which came to a halt in the United States upon the creation of the mainstream diesel engines. The diesel engines were much more efficient and less polluting than their steam counterparts.

                        Now, Grand Canyon Railway and Day are closing the gap between steam and diesel efficiencies. “This is the most significant work on steam engines in the United States since the 1930s,” said Sam Lanter, chief mechanical officer for Grand Canyon Railway. “And rather than build a new breed of steam engine, it was important to us that we evolve the steam technology, while also preserving the history of the American steam engine.”


                        In 1990, the Grand Canyon Depot re-opened to welcome Grand Canyon Railway’s trains in July. Showcasing the grand success of the railways, in 1993, they carried more than 105,000 passengers per year, which reduced automobile traffic to the South Rim by approximately 40,000 cars. In order to meet the needs of the ever growing tourist population, the modern-day Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (built to resemble the historic Fray Marcos Hotel) opened its doors in 1995. The Railway also began a daily passenger service and re-introduced vintage diesel locomotives to the Grand Canyon line[20].

                        In 1996, steam locomotive No. 4960 made its first run on the Grand Canyon line after being fully restored[21]. The restoration required more than $1.5 million and 80,000 man-hours The tremendous success of the railways is evident when on Oct. 1st, 1998,  Reginald and Pat Barker become the millionth passengers to ride Grand Canyon Railway.

                        In 1999, the Grand Canyon Railway obtained a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Max ; Thelma’s Restaurant opened to the public on March 4 and on Aug. 2; Amtrak service added a stop at Williams Junction. The Grand Canyon Railway completed a 107-room addition to the Hotel in February, 2000, also adding the pool and hot tub features.

                        In 2001, the Grand Canyon Railway went full speed ahead with new attractions and features to garner the interest of tourists and passengers. It began running a special Polar Express train to the “North Pole” during the holidays. Meanwhile the Grand Canyon Depot[22] restoration project was completed by 2002 and in March, 2004 the third addition to the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel was completed. The addition added 92 standard rooms and 10 luxury suites. On July 21, of the very same year Catherine Harris became the two-millionth passenger to ride Grand Canyon Railway. Steam locomotive No. 29 rode the Grand Canyon Railway line after an extensive restoration involving $1 million and 26,000 man-hours.

                        The Grand Canyon Railway now carries more than 225,000 passengers per year, which reduces automobile traffic to the South Rim by 10 percent. Finally in 2006, the Grand Canyon Railway introduced new train schedules and a new class of service – Budd Coach Class[23].

                        In February 2006, the Grand Canyon Railway announced that it had established a new logo that unifies all of the operating divisions of the company. The new ‘glyph’ style “G” herald harkens to the native American petroglyphs that permeate the areas of Northern Arizona. Thus, the railway to Grand Canyon, which played a role in the establishment of Grand Canyon   National Park itself, has reached the 100th anniversary of the beginning of its construction and the 100th anniversary of its completion. The railroads that served some national parks, such as Yosemite, have been long abandoned and dismantled, but the Grand Canyon’s historic railroad has survived and been resurrected to full operation.

                        In March 2006, owners Max ; Thelma Biegert announced to the media that they were placing the railroad and its associated restaurants, hotels and amenities up for sale. The combined properties have an annual revenue of nearly $40 million. The Biegerts were seeking a new buyer/operator with a possible theme park background, which would ensure that the railroad, hotels, RV park, restaurants’ and a possible new amusement park in Williams, would continue to be operated as one entity. They finally agreed in principle to sell the state’s top rail attraction to the nation’s largest national parks concessionaire. Xanterra Parks ; Resorts[24].

                        On September 21, 2006, it was announced that Xanterra Parks ; Resorts of Denver, CO, had submitted the winning bid (for an undisclosed sum) and was selected as the new owner for the Grand Canyon Railway. Xanterra[25] is the current operator of the Grand Canyon National Park’s hotel, restaurant and store concessions, as well as National Park Service concessions of many other national parks throughout the nation. Xanterra is the corporate name and identity for what was originally known as ‘The Fred Harvey Company’, a legendary company with restaurant, hotel and service ties to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway as far back as the 1876.

                        Grand Canyon Railway President W. David Chambers said “Xanterra’s plans and our plans include continuing growth in the business, and I think that’s going to create more jobs, not eliminate jobs.” He also called Xanterra “the largest national park concession operation in the United States.”

                        Xanterra[26]  further said that it intends to keep all 480 of the Railway’s current employees, and plans on focusing on growing the business and increasing the coordination between the Railway and Xanterra’s other services in the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. In the press release, the Railway and Xanterra reported over 225,000 passengers and over $38 million in revenue in calendar year 2005. The purchase of the GCR includes all of the Railway’s assets, land, depots, hotels, RV park, rolling stock, shops and linear acreage along the 65-mile line. The Biegert family’s 480-acre ranch near Gonzales Lake in north Williams was not included in the sale to Xanterra.

                        Today, the Grand Canyon Railway makes the journey[27] from Williams to the Grand Canyon every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The trip includes a daily Wild West shootout prior to departure each morning and live entertainment aboard the train, including roaming Western singers. The train travels through 65 miles of high desert plains, small arroyos and portions of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest. It offers five classes of service and a variety of trip options, including packages with overnight stays at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Marketing Techniques

“We were welcomed aboard with cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and an assortment of cold drinks. Champaign was served. Craig Summers, the wondering minstrel, serenaded us with guitar and his deep baritone voice. All was calm and relaxing. That is, it was until we spotted armed and masked men on horseback firing their guns alongside the train. The Cataract Creek Bunch had broken out of jail. Our train was forced to stop, and the robbers jumped aboard. A motley, character, known only as Pappy, entered our car brandishing a six-gun and demanding our valuables. Fortunately, a brave deputy marshal, known as Rusty, was aboard our train; he bravely and single handedly arrested the desperado and saved our valuables.” Quoted from a passenger on the Grand Canyon railway.

                        Surrounded by windows on all sides as well as above, passengers in the Grand Canyon Train dome car have panoramic views of miles of scenery as they make their way to Grand Canyon National Park. The train offers kaleidoscopic views of the San Francisco Peaks and rolls through valleys adorned in wild flowers, dense pine forests, high desert plains and small canyons. It features a historic steam locomotive during the summer season, restored Pullman cars, and a staged old west style shootout. Children have been known to hand over their allowances to the “thieves”! You will definitely feel like stepping aboard the Grand Canyon Railway for a trip to the majestic Grand Canyon you’ll never forget. The rumble of a vintage train as the engine chugs 65 miles across beautiful Northern Arizona countryside puts you back in time.

                        The excitement begins at the historic 1908 Williams Depot. Before the train departs you will be entertained at a Wild West shootout featuring the Cataract Creek Gang in an outdoor theatre. A vintage steam engine pulls the train from Memorial Day through September 30. A vintage diesel engine does the job the remainder of the year. Uniformed coach attendants provide you with white-gloved courtesy and service. Aboard the train, enjoy the tunes of strolling musicians who conduct sing-a-longs, an Old West train robbery, and the antics of western characters as they recreate train travel as it was back in 1901. A “gee-tar” player strolls through the cars singing songs of the Old West.  Periodically during the trip Cowboy balladeers work their way through the passenger cars singing songs and cajoling with the passengers.

                        The train arrives at the historic 1910 Grand Canyon Depot. It is the only remaining log depot still in operation in the United States. Buildings like the El Tovar Hotel, Hopi House, and Bright Angel Lodge salute arriving guests as they pull into the station and disembark from the train. A narrated motorcoach rim tour enhances your visit by escorting you to the most scenic overlooks of the Canyon.

                        The Grand Canyon Railways crew does its best to keep the passengers feel as if they are traveling back in time. The train crew is well versed in local history and is happy to answer your questions and, while on board, passengers will also be treated to entertainment.  The lesson here is that when you nail down the details and espouse a philosophy and culture of attending to the customer, you’ve got to believe it and live it.

                        The beautifully restored vintage cars and engines continue to multiply as well. In the Summer of 2006 the railway added 14 1950’s stainless steel commuter cars which were a welcome relief to those who wanted to save money by riding coach class but didn’t exactly want to go without air conditioning[28]. The railway’s Pullman Coach Class cars, some of which are close to 100 years old, still give riders a taste of yesteryear during the summer months. The Grand Canyon Railway has five classes of train cars that are pulled by historic turn-of-the-century steam engines (vintage diesel engines in colder months). Passengers flock to the 1923 Pullman coach cars, the 1950 era Pullman first-class cars, the glass viewing dome, and the last car of the train, the luxury parlor, where one would expect to see a caboose. In days gone by, the luxury parlor, complete with its open-air rear platform, was always reserved for very special passengers of the train—government officials or railroad tycoons.

                        Wandering western minstrels serenade passengers and men on horseback gallop toward the train shooting guns in the air. The train slows, and three robbers board and proceed to rob everyone. Fortunately the Marshall is also on board and captures the robbers. The “loot” is just the traveler’s way of tipping the entertainers for a great day[29]. These attempts at reconstructing the atmosphere of days long gone by have a magical quality to them.

                        From November 10 through January 7, the Railway runs The Polar Express[30], a whimsical recreation of the popular children’s book, using its vintage trains to transport families from Santa’s Workshop (based in Williams, AZ) to the North Pole. To you, it’s just about half an hour, but to a pajama-clad, cocoa-fueled child, it’s a long, magical adventure through a darkened winter wonderland, straight to the furthest reaches of the globe.

                        The trip is inspired by Chris Van Allsburg’s otherworldly book about a boy who is whisked away on a magical train to the North Pole to affirm his belief in Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas. Santa gives him a bell, only audible to believers, which he loses and then rediscovers wrapped under the tree on Christmas day. The Grand Canyon Railway, which operates year-round trips to the Grand Canyon with its fleet of vintage trains, added the Polar Express route four years ago. It was an instant hit, made all the more popular by last year’s release of the animated film The Polar Express featuring the voice of Tom Hanks[31].

                        Once the train leaves the Williams depot, decked out this year with close to half a million lights, families are treated to cocoa and other treats while Santa’s Helpers read The Polar Express aloud. When the train arrives at the North Pole (which features a new Aurora Borealis effect this year), Santa himself gets on board with characteristic Christmas cheer and a special gift for each child.

                        An additional attraction is the Day Out with Thomas feature. For more than six decades, children have been captivated with the tales of Thomas the Tank Engine[32].  Pulling out of the station for its 12th consecutive ride on the rails, the Day Out With Thomas 2007: All Aboard Tourwill visit 45 cities in the United States and Canada. Day Out With Thomas is the only place for families to take a ride with a 25-ton replica of everybody’s favorite #1 engine, Thomas the Tank Engine, and enjoy Thomas-themed activities at the Imagination Station, including stamps, temporary tattoos and hands-on arts and crafts.

                        Each year the tour grows, traveling to new destinations, adding new activities and welcoming new visitors. The tour provides a unique, interactive family experience at every station, offering a variety of entertaining activities that reflect the local flavor of each stop. At the Grand Canyon Railway, activities also include: bouncy castles, a magician, balloon artists and a hay bale maze as well as Operation Lifesaver, a program dedicated to educating adults and children alike about train safety.

                        This constant innovation and restructuring of attractions by the Grand Canyon Railways management is geared to making the Railways a trip to remember and enjoy for every passenger on board. A new recently added attraction to the Railways is the “Sunset Limited” tour which offers a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon at sunset.


                        The Grand Canyon Railway transports you back in time – to when the wild west was really like before it was bought, sold and parceled into little pieces. Tourists by the thousands arrive each year to ride the train. Most have the romantic notion of tasting the Wild West before it is transformed by land developers into an asphalt-concrete paradise. Besides the few modern reminders of humankind’s existence along the 64-mile ribbon of steel, the Grand Canyon Railway is still one of the best ways left to experience the old west, allowing you to feast you eyes on the beauty and bounty of nature at her glorious best. The Grand Canyon Railway has come a long way.  It has been a supplies train, tourist train, closed, fought over who will own it, rebuilt, expanded to be more than just a vassal to the Grand Canyon, and finally sold to  Xanterra for an entirely new lease of life.


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Xanterra. Xanterra Parks ; Resorts. (2007). (accessed April 27th, 2007).

[2] Although first afforded Federal protection in 1893 as a forest reserve and later as a U.S. National Monument, Grand Canyon did not achieve U.S. National Park status until 1919, three years after the creation of the National Park Service. Today, Grand Canyon National Park receives about five million visitors each year, a far cry from the annual visitation of 44,173 in 1919.
[4] William Owen “Bucky” O’Neill was sheriff of Yavapi County, mayor of Prescott, prospector, promoter and later one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders
[5] To help gain the interest of the Santa Fe, O’Neill sent ore samples of gold saying he had mined the samples from the Grand Canyon. In the same letter, however, O’Neill also recognized the potential for tourism so he spoke to the natural beauty of the region and the canyon.
[6] It was typical for a railroad in that era to adopt as its name the names of each end of its line.

[7] Chappell, Gordon. A grand Canyon Railway, Project for the New Century – the 20th. CRM. 1999
[8] Babcock, Barbara A., Weigle, Marta. The great Southwest of the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railway. Phoenix, AZ: Heard Museum; Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1996.
[9] The company had intended to convert the old Bright Angel into employee quarters. But, with access by rail available, passenger traffic to the Grand Canyon escalated so fast that the company needed a resort for less wealthy tourists to complement El Tovar. It converted the Bright Angel Hotel into Bright Angel Camp, a less expensive tourist facility at the rim, and constructed new employee quarters elsewhere.
[10] Clark, Ira G. Then Came the Railroads: the Century from Steam to Diesel in the Southwest. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.
[11] Supplies were not the only things carried in trains. Ranching and lumber were the primary industries of the early 1900s. Ranchers and lumberjacks contracted with the Grand Canyon Railway to transport their stock.
[12] Trains remained the preferred way to travel to the canyon until they were surpassed by the auto in the 1930s. West Rim Drive was completed in 1912. In the late 1920s the first rim to rim access was established by the North Kaibab suspension bridge over the Colorado River. Paved roads did not reach the less popular and more remote North Rim until 1926, and that area, being higher in elevation, is closed due to winter weather from November to April. Construction of a road along part of the South Rim was completed in 1935.
[13] Rothman, Hal K. Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West. Lawrence, KS: University press of Kansas, 1998
[14] By the early 1990s more than a million automobiles per year visited the park. Air pollution from those vehicles and wind-blown pollution from Flagstaff and even the Las Vegas area had greatly reduced visibility in the Grand Canyon and vicinity
[16] Chappell, Gordon. A grand Canyon Railway, Project for the New Century – the 20th. CRM. 1999

[17] In 1984, the Railroad Resources of Phoenix with financial backing from Max Biegert was making some headway in its attempt to purchase the Grand Canyon Railroad.
[18] The railway network itself was moving away form steam engines to Diesel powered ones and in the 1940s Diesel locomotives begin traveling the Grand Canyon line. By the year 1953, all steam trains traveling the route to the Grand Canyon were replaced with diesel engines. The Fray Marcos Hotel remained closed to the public although the depot continued to service the East-West mainline and Williams-Grand Canyon train traffic.


[20] Richmond, Al. Cowboys, Miners, Presidents & Kings: The Story of the Grand Canyon Railway. Williams, AZ: Grand Canyon Railway Press, 2005.
[21] Gerber, Rudy The Railroad and the Canyon. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co. 1995.
[22] The restored Santa Fe Railway Station in Williams now serves the Grand Canyon Railway, and is also home to a small railroad museum. The Grand Canyon Depot, owned by the National Park Service, remains the northern terminus for passengers of the line.
[25] Xanterra. Xanterra Parks & Resorts. (2007).
[26] Trains have been an integral part of the growth and stability of tourism in the Grand Canyon area, so this is a fitting purchase for Xanterra,” said Andrew N. Todd, president and CEO of Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “We are pleased to welcome the Grand Canyon Railway employee family to Xanterra Parks & Resorts.”

[27] Approximately 238,000 people rode the train from Williams, Ariz. to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in 2006.

[28] Bowyer, David. The Grand Canyon Railway Adventure. Cortez, CO: David Bowyer Productions, 2005.
[29] Fodor’s Travel. Sights and Activities: Grand Canyon Railway. (2007).