While going over options for a depot platform restoration project, Grand Canyon Railway officials dusted off old railroad plans to use as a guide. That’s because preserving the platform area’s historic elements was a primary goal for the railway as well as the National Park Service.
Grand Canyon Railway passengers make their way across the wooden crosswalk that connects the three concrete platforms that were finished last week at the historic depot.
After a few years of planning and four months of physical labor, the platform was finished Wednesday.
"It was worth the wait," said Grand Canyon Railway’s Jerry Thull. "This is an historic area and it was important to not damage anything and maintain its integrity."
The depot, located at the bottom of El Tovar hill, receives hundreds of visitors each day on the railway’s daily run from Williams to the park. The platform area, where passengers are loaded and unloaded, was in dire need of an upgrade. Periodically, there would even be injuries to passengers on the old platform.
"It has perfectly even footing now," Thull said. "We have a wheelchair lift and now it’s easier to roll that down. When we have the longer trains, it will be easier and quicker for us to unload the passengers."
Three concrete platforms originally installed by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway were rebuilt during the project. Grand Canyon Railway also installed a wooden crosswalk connecting the platforms across the tracks according to early railroad plans.
"It was a lot of work for us," Thull said. "We worked with the National Park Service to maintain historical integrity. This whole area has a lot of historical significance."
A service conduit that once carried a steam line the length of the platform was also preserved, Thull said. In the early days, trains could tie into a steam line within the conduit to keep passenger cars warm during the stay at the Canyon. Several railroad tracks in the platform area were also refurbished and some landscaping was done.
"This is a great improvement for passengers arriving at the Grand Canyon by train," Grand Canyon Railway owner Max Biegert said. "Today our passengers get a better feel for what it was like to visit the Grand Canyon during the glory days of railroading."
Thull credited close cooperation between the NPS and railway went into the careful planning and implementation of the project.
Park superintendent Joe Alston took an interest in the project and went down to the site one day to chat with railway employees about any concerns.
Deputy superintendent Kate Cannon was a key figure in the project’s advancement.