Grand Canyon Railway planning <br>$6 million in improvements this year<br>
A GCR diesel locomotive sits at the Grand Canyon depot.
The railway will add almost 100 rooms to its Fray Marcos Hotel. Construction on the new wing is scheduled to begin next fall. The hotel currently has 196 rooms.
The railway purchased three diesel locomotives from Amtrak this year for its fleet and four passenger cars last year.
“A lot of times what we do when we buy engines like this, and also with the cars, is we won’t use them all. We’ll use one or two for parts,” said Thull. “There vintage equipment and they don’t make that stuff anymore.”
The railway is also planning a 12,000 square foot expansion of its locomotive shop located north of Interstate 40 sometime this year.
“That will be an important improvement and help us maintain equipment,” said Thull.
Railway mechanics recently completed a restoration project to a steam locomotive planned to be in service this summer.
The railway, which returned to Williams in 1989, was a shot in the arm to a hurting city, said Williams City Manager Dennis Wells.
“I think the railroad was a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “It wasn’t just an economic stimulus, it was a source of pride.”
Wells considers the railroad a good neighbor to the city. Much of the city’s success is tied to the railroad, he said.
“We’re married and there’s no possibility of divorce,” Wells said.
The railway plans to bring back its Day Out With Thomas for two weekends in May and one in September.
The event allows families to take a 25-minute ride aboard a train led by children’s book character Thomas the Tank Engine. Live music and interactive children’s exhibits will also be available during the event planned for May 9-11 and 16-18. Tickets are not yet available for this event.
The railway will also bring back The Polar Express, an hour-long journey based on the popular children’s book by the same name. Families are taken on board the train as it journeys to “The North Pole.” Children are treated to hot chocolate and cookies while guest speakers read the story.
Tickets for this event are already on sale for the event scheduled for Dec. 4-8, 11-15 and 17-22. Nearly 900 tickets have already been sold. The railway reported more than 12,000 people rode The Polar Express in December.
Events like these provide valuable opportunities for other Williams businesses to capitalize on, said Donna Cochran, president of the Williams-Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber has begun partnering with the railway to promote Williams as a tourist destination, she said.
“We’re going to try to work together on our marketing program,” said Cochran. “If they’re covering a specific area and doing a huge campaign to promote Williams, then I might pick a different area that maybe isn’t being covered.”
Capitalizing on upcoming railway events is crucial for area businesses.
“If Polar Express is happening in town, just for example, then we need to have some sort of special going on for kids,” she said.
Cochran suggested retailers stock up on children’s products or offers discounts for customers showing train tickets.
“Basically we need to keep our merchants informed of each event and how they might be able to tie in with some sort of promotional activity that they’re doing,” said Cochran.