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Grand Canyon Railway May Expand Rail Service to the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park


Grand Canyon Railway steam locomotive arrives at Williams, Arizona, on April 6, 2006. Photo by Howcheng via Wikipedia.

The Grand Canyon Railway currently operates two trains daily to transport passengers between Williams, Arizona, and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Now the Park Service is considering whether to allow the owner, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, to add a third daily train carrying up to 1,046 passengers as well as an evening excursion trip from the South rim carrying up to 322 passengers.

The National Park Service has strongly supported the train service option for South Rim visitors because it cuts down on vehicular traffic and reduces related traffic congestion, parking problems, and air pollution. (The latter problem at Grand Canyon compels the GCR to seasonally switch from steam locomotives in the warm season to diesel electric in the cooler months when frequent temperature inversions inhibit circulation and stagnate the air.)

The Grand Canyon Railway has a venerable history at Grand Canyon. Inaugurated on September 17, 1901, train service to the South Rim was offered for nearly seven decades before being suspended in 1968. The popularity of auto travel had soared, and interest in train travel had waned.

The GCR resumed operations on September 17, 1989, exactly 88 years to the day after the inaugural run. Max and Thelma Biegert, a husband-wife team of entrepreneurs, had stepped in and saved the GCR in the nick of time; the railroad’s previous owner had already begun to tear up the tracks for salvage. Putting the business back together again was not easy or cheap. Among other things, the Biegerts rebuilt the tracks, restored the historic depots at Williams and the South Rim, and reconditioned two vintage 1906 and 1910 steam locomotives.

Over the years, the GCR has accumulated quite a roster of notable passengers, including John Muir, quite a few presidents (including Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower), a goodly number of Hollywood celebrities (Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, Doris Day, etc.), and some of the wealthiest people on the planet (Warren Buffet and Bill Gates).

GCR passenger volume has increased substantially in recent years. About 175,000 Grand Canyon visitors rode the train in 1999, but by last year train riders numbered 230,000 (a 31% increase in eight years) and accounted for a little over 5% of the park’s 4.4 million annual visitors.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Grand Canyon’s primary concessioner (operating at the South Rim as Xanterra South Rim, LLLC), purchased the Grand Canyon Railway in 2005. The big company -- largest of all the park concessioners in the National Park System -- has since promoted train service to the South Rim very aggressively.

The National Park Service is inviting comments about the proposed rail service expansion. Visit this site for details. (Accessing this site may be problematic due to server problems.) The deadline for public comments is October 4.


Sharon and myself had a chance this summer to ride the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon, it was a memorable trip. I just hope the new owners are aware of the treasure that they have in it's people especially one.

We live in the heart of Tourist America near Disney World, so we are aware of what employees and their attitudes make for such an endeavor.
Victoria was our guide and rode with us to the South Rim and Back. Xanterra Parks and Resorts would be well advised to know this woman was absolutely outstanding in her ability to keep us entertained. She had the enthusiasm, energy, excitement and detailed information about the area that could only found in a National Geographic Program! A rarity in employees. I sincerely hope that when we return we have her as our guide again.

We did this trip a few years ago with the kids in the month of March... the kids loved it, and you definitely don't need a vehicle once you get to the South Rim. When I worked at Grand Canyon there were trees growing up through the rotting RR ties. Glad to see it brought back to life, especially if it cuts down on the number of zanies looking for a parking spot.

I love trains, this one included! I am all for adding another train to the schedule. I've personally ridden this train numerous times and have always had a great trip. I'd highly recommend this train ride to anyone and with a 3rd train it will provide more access for people to enjoy it! I hope they approve the proposal.

Not mentioned here is that the Grand Canyon Railway has decided to end their steam locomotive operations and stay with only the diesels.

Thanks, Darrel. This must have been a fairly recent decision. The GCR was still using steam locomotives seasonally as of spring 2006.

It's been a long time since I worked at the Grand Canyon, but even then vehicle traffic was a challenge. The train is certainly a great way for people to visit the park and leave their vehicles elsewhere. As noted in an earlier comment, using the train works very well at the South Rim, because the park's transportation system does make it possible to get around the area very easily without a private vehicle.

I haven't looked at the schedule, but it would be nice if it's structured so that train riders can come on one train and return on a later one, for benefit of those who want more than just a brief visit to the park.

We took the train at the end of June (2008). It was wonderful. My 82 year old Aunt, her niece and myself loved coming back to the Grand Canyon area via the
train (instead of by car the first time we saw the canyon). It was clean, on time and a pleasure to ride. The live entertainment (wild west show before, singing cowboys on the way to the rim and the "robbery"
by Cowboy Bandits on the way back) was a favorite of all.

I agree about the quality of the employee - our guide - came to visit the area and decided to stay. She was perfect. Warm, caring and fun. Very knowledgeable
and kept us focused (especially not to miss our departure time).

Not sure of the above post about the loss of the steam locomotives. When we went, they used the diesel one due to mechanical problems that had pulled the
steam locomotive just the week before.

I hope their recent experiment with the recent September Sunset Limited was a great success. It provided evening guests with live Jazz Music, appetizers, room to dance
and a party at the rim. And then, they brought you back the same evening.

For families - don't forget they offer a Polar Express Run all through the Holidays. Hear the story, see the village, meet Santa and get a gift! Great fun for everyone!

Packages are always available to ride one train in, stay at Rim and then return on whatever day you decide to return. As a resident and worker in nearby Sedona, AZ, I
am always letting people know of the treasure 90 minutes north of us!

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