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Multimillion-dollar restoration project connects Virginia City and Carson City via train.
For the first time in more than 70 years, a steam train made its way between Carson City and Virginia City on the historic Virginia & Truckee Railroad on the third weekend of August. The rumble of wheels—steel on steel, the melodic tempo of a train highballing down the track, the steam whistle cutting through the air—all signal the near completion of a project 17 years in the making.
An inaugural run featured a ceremonial ride for VIPs, dignitaries, and politicians along a 12.8-mile reconstructed portion of the 16.7-mile original route between Nevada’s sister cities on Friday, August 14.
Beginning Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16, and every consecutive Saturday through October 31, the public can ride the rails. Trains leave Carson City from Eastgate Siding on Flint Drive at 10 a.m. arriving in Virginia City at 11:30 a.m., then depart the F Street station in Virginia City at 3:30 p.m. to return to Carson City at 4:30 p.m. Roundtrip tickets are $48 per adult, $36 for children 12 and younger, and $40 for seniors 65 or older. One-way tickets are also available: $29 for adults, $23 for children, and $25 for seniors.
The 60- to 90-minute train rides include scenic vistas of the old-west countryside, views of the Carson River, two tunnels, and occasional sightings of wild stallions. Commemorative plaques with slices of historic track will be available to riders for $20 during the opening weekend, with proceeds benefiting the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway.
The V&T Railway, the richest short-line in American history, originally operated during the raucous silver strike era of the Comstock Lode from 1869 to 1938. When completed in 2011, the reconstructed track will trace all 16.7 miles of the 19th-century route and is expected to serve as a major tourism attraction to the area. Train rides will be packaged with lodging stays and award-winning restaurants to link the area’s fabled past to the present. The Carson City Convention & Visitors Bureau and Carson City have pledged $21 million, and Storey County has contributed $2 million to the $54.9-million project.
The 1860s V&T was privately funded and featured the finest appointments with the most luxurious interiors money could buy, including gold-leaf and brass-adorned locomotives to wooden coaches. The line brought entrepreneurs, gamblers, and aristocrats to the Comstock. Along with these characters, the train carried the Mother Lode’s gold and silver to Carson City and lumber from Lake Tahoe to build the mines in Virginia City.
The timing of the V&T route re-opening appropriately coincides with Railfest, an annual celebration of the V& T Railway observed that weekend in both cities with a plethora of railroad activities.
In addition to the V&T’s reopened route, steam engines in both towns will also offer shorter rides along existing track. In Virginia City where the V&T has run for more than 30 years under the ownership of the Gray family, the popular five-mile route to Gold Hill will also be in full operation. In Carson City, “steam-ups” will take visitors along the one-mile route that surrounds the Nevada State Railroad Museum, adjacent to Highway 50 downtown.
The Gray family began to reconstruct the tracks between Virginia City and Gold Hill in 1972. Since then, they have run trains daily between the two cities, keeping the V&T alive. Without their help, the reconstruction project between Virginia City and Carson City would not have been possible.