The following is the information posted on the web site immediately after the decision to shut down the SLSTA. Rather than update it, I have left it largely intact since it clearly states what happened and why. With the benefit of 14 years of hindsight, we now know that some of the optimism thoughts below that would have helped get 1522 running again did not come to fruition.
The decision to retire the 1522 back to the Museum of Transportation collection at the end of 2002 certainly took the steam enthusiast world by surprise. It was a shock to most of the crew as well - many of whom were just as stunned as you.
The press release issued by the SLSTA is repeated below for reference. After that, the webmaster has tried to answer some of the frequently asked questions regarding this announcement in hopes that he can clarify the future of the Association and the engine. Any opinions which are inferred should be considered those of the webmaster and not necessarily of the SLSTA.
SLSTA PRESS RELEASE
On Wednesday, June 12, 2002, the St. Louis Steam Train Association Board of Directors met in a special Board meeting to assess the current situation and future prospects for continued operations of locomotive SLSF 1522. The Board decided that this would be the last season of operations for the 1522 by the SLSTA.
The SLSTA is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization established in 1986 to restore, maintain, and operate the engine. Over the past 14 years, the engine has traveled extensively across the heartland of the US, including representing Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the successor to the St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) Railroad, which ordered the locomotive from the Baldwin Locomotive Company in 1926. The 1522 is one of the oldest main line operating steam locomotives in the country, and the only current example of a "Mountain" type 4-8-2 wheel arrangement in operation.
The action of the Board was in response to the spiraling costs of insurance, the limited accessibility to major railroad mainlines for excursions, required work on the engine to comply with newly enacted Federal boiler regulations, and the volunteer nature of the SLSTA's membership. "No matter how hard we try, how much our group wants to continue operating the engine, or how businesslike we attempt to run our organization, the simple fact is we can no longer sustain the economic requirements for operating and maintaining this remarkable piece of equipment in today's world," said Robert C. Meier, President of the SLSTA.
The 1522 is owned by St. Louis County and is a part of the collection of railroad artifacts of the Museum of Transportation. The engine and other rolling stock are leased by SLSTA from the County. SLSTA commenced rehabilitation of the engine in 1985, and has operated it on major railroads throughout the Midwest since 1988. Last year the 1522 was the motive power on BNSF's Employee Appreciation Special, running over 4000 miles from St. Louis through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. The engine also ran an excursion for the National Railway Historical Society national convention. After fifteen years of service, the Museum of Transportation's operating steam locomotive and ambassador artifact, Frisco 1522 will be featured as a major exhibit at the Museum in 2003.
Why is the 1522 being retired?
From the press release above, we can identify 3 major issues:
While the SLSTA has overcome many challenges in its short history and could have likely overcome any single issue above by itself, the combination of these makes it financially impossible to go on.
What happened to the insurance costs?
Jim Schwinkendorf, our railroad liaison, provides the following insight:
"Insurance since 9-11 has gone thru the roof and into orbit. In 1990, BN required $10 million in liability insurance, but by 2000, this requirement had gone to $50 Million. Given our court system and jury awards, the increase was not out of line, given what our society has caused to happen. After 9-11, the annual cost of an excursion policy for $50 million has risen to at least $150,000 per year. A volunteer organization running a few times a year simply cannot build a big enough train nor charge enough bucks per excursion seat to cover those kinds of mainline running costs."
Let's do the math - if you get out one weekend a year, with a train of 500 seats, running a Saturday and Sunday excursion, you run a total of 1000 seats on which to recoup your costs. Dividing $150,000 by 1000 seats equals $150 per seat JUST FOR INSURANCE COSTS! Then you have to add in the cost of operating the engine, obtaining the cars, railroad operational costs, etc., and your costs are now way over $200 per seat. All this presumes your train will sell out which is a presumption you can almost never make. Sales of coach seats are difficult enough when the cost per seat is $100!
Another thing to consider is that insurance for train excursions is a very limited market. Very few companies are even willing to deal with it and several of these have recently dropped out of the market.
On your 1522 FAQ, you quoted an estimated cost of operating the 1522 at $25 per mile for planning purposes. Can you specify what that covers and tell us some of the other costs involved in running an excursion or display?
The $25 per mile includes fuel, lubricants, water treatment, crew food and some lodging, perhaps some allocations of insurance (personal property and liability). It does not cover the costs that the railroad charges to operate over its tracks which can, according to Mr. Schwinkendorf, add another $35-50 per mile. These cover the crews, maintenance workers, dispatchers, Operations Centers, staff, etc., that are necessary to make the trip happen. If we are not operating an excursion, these would likely be the costs for the trip.
When you add an excursion train full of people, costs continue to climb. The SLSTA does not run excursion trains, but the St. Louis Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society does and can provide some insight on their portion of the costs. Suitable passenger cars, restored to modern standards, have to be located and gathered for this train. A good coach costs $1000 or so a day to charter - dome cars and first class lounges cost even more. Since only a few suitable cars are available in the St. Louis area, many will need to be imported from other locations to build a suitable excursion train. Deadheading a car to St. Louis costs roughly $1.25 a mile not including the costs of a car rider to oversee the security and safety of that car. Add in costs of advertising, ticketing, food service, medical personnel, and other miscellanous costs, and you now understand why excursions are so expensive.
What boiler work is needed on the 1522 - I thought you just did a bunch of work during the overhaul in 1999?
We did do considerable work on the boiler around the firebox. However, the main emphasis during that overhaul was to restore the running gear and the boiler work was secondary. The Federal Government has since issued new boiler regulations which require disassembly and inspection of the boiler components to establish a sound boiler. While we had done this work during the 1522's original restoration back in the 1980s, these new laws were not in effect so that doesn't count. The costs to perform this teardown and inspection of the boiler are estimated to be $100,000 - 125,000 - and that is presuming we did not find any unexpected, significant problems with the boiler during the inspection. The Association was ready to do this required work but the insurance costs make it a moot point.
Why is the 1522 limited in when and how it operates on main line railroads? People fly restored aircraft all over without any problems - why can't you run?
It is very important to understand the differences of access to the nation's transportation modes. The airways, highways and waterways of the United States are open to all. If you can prove to the governing authorities that your restored plane, vehicle or watercraft is safe, you are free to operate it as you see fit within the governing laws. The nation's railroads, however, are nearly all privately owned by for-profit companies. They are out to make money and have shareholders they have to satisfy. Running a steam locomotive does not generate any significant profit and, usually, costs them money and aggrevation as well. Those who follow the rail scene know how the railroads have trimmed themselves down drastically in the past few decades and now there is little or no excess capacity, both of physical plant as well as manpower, to operate excursions. Some roads have stated that they will not operate steam for any reason. The fact that some railroads, like the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific, will tolerate limited steam operations is something for which we should all be very grateful. However, they will only operate steam on special occasions and there is no indication this policy will change any time soon. This limited access that the 1522 has to the nation's rail system restricts our ability to recover the costs of maintaining the locomotive.
"Your excursions are too expensive, so please give me the info on the trip so I can chase it." "We have enjoyed chasing your trips in the past and hope you will run your final excursion trips so we can chase again."
These are sentiments that were in various emails received at this site. From the discussion above, you now know why the trips are so expensive. Unfortunately, several of the last trips the 1522 has run did not sell out - which limited the financial return to the Association with which to maintain the 1522. While it is convenient to blame the high costs of tickets as a reason not to ride the train and chase instead, it is the people who ride the trips who make that trip happen. To all those who have ridden one of our trips these past 13 years - thank you for keeping the 1522 running!
What can I do to help?
The best thing you can do is understand the situation faced by the operators of main line steam engines. As you see above, the days of the $10 excursion are over and not likely to ever return. If you want to see mainline steam in operation, buy a ticket to ride when an engine can get out for a trip. If you would rather chase, buy a ticket anyway and give it to a friend or donate it to a charity so someone less fortunate can ride. Stay informed on the insurance issues - it is likely that insurance for just about everything will be a lot more expensive. Donate some time or money to help a charitable group keep their historic artifact, be it vehicle, aircraft, house or steam engine, operational.
So what will become of the 1522?
The 1522 will be preserved in such a way that it can be made operational again and will return to being a static exhibit at the Museum of Transportation. Visitors to the Museum will be able to view the 1522 on display along with the rest of the Museum's railroad artifacts.
What about the water car, Firefly, Black Gold, Chouteau Club and Bluebonnet?
The Bluebonnet is part of the Museum collection already. The Firefly, Black Gold and water car will be stored at the Museum as well and may become an exhibit in their own right to show what is needed to support a steam locomotive on a modern railroad. The Chouteau Club is privately owned and will hopefully continue to run on excursions elsewhere.
You obviously have an enormous collection of tools, materials and equipment that kept 1522 running. What will happen to it?
These will be stored at the Museum.
You mentioned you had funds available to do the boiler work. What will happen to this money?
The intent is to set this money in a trust fund to be available to maintain the 1522 during its display. The goal is to keep the engine's appearance and mechanical status from deteriorating over time and these funds would be available to do so.
Why is the SLSTA dissolving?
Since the 1522 will no longer be operating, the Association is not needed. Also, there are tax issues involving the Association's finances and ownership of property.
How about the crew? Are they all burned out and planning to disband?
The webmaster cannot speak for the crew but can offer observations based on conversations with them. The crew has certainly been through a lot in the past 18 years - a restoration, bearing problems, a derailment, 2 follow-on restorations and in between some fantastic operations - sometimes in some very hostile summer weather. There is considerable disappointment in having to quit now that the engine is probably in its best condition ever. There is some burnout but that has been eased by our reduced amount of work on the equipment in the past few months. Some of the crew already work on other restoration projects at the Museum and will likely continue. Of the rest, I expect that some will drift off but many will keep coming out both to keep the 1522 looking good as well as to take up something new at the Museum. The crew is a tight-knit, close group of people that has been through a lot together - I don't seem them falling apart now!
The big question that everyone wants to know - will the 1522 ever run again?
It is certainly possible that it will and every effort is being made to keep the engine and supporting cars and equipment in a condition to do so should the conditions allow it. As you have seen above, a lot would have to happen for the 1522 to take to the main lines again.
Could a sponsor be found to underwrite the costs of operating the 1522?
It is a possibility. To date, no sponsors have approached us.
Will you continue the web site?
The intent is to keep the web site going in a reduced form to both inform everyone about the status of the 1522 and to keep the domain name available. Since the Association will be gone, the web site will be underwritten through other means.>