By Justin Franz
Updated: May 20, 11:45 a.m. EST
The owner of Washington’s Mt. Rainier Railroad said Wednesday he is closing the tourist railroad for the “foreseeable future” and preparing to put it up for sale.
On Monday, American Heritage Railways announced on its website that it was closing the Mt. Rainier Railroad because of the “COVID-19 pandemic and other complications.” The announcement set off a series of conflicting rumors — fueled by the public release of an internal staff memo — that the railroad was being permanently closed. On Tuesday, general manager John Harper (son of owner Al Harper) told a newspaper that the memo was fake and that the railroad would eventually resume operations. But on Wednesday, the company issued a press release clarifying its earlier announcement and stating that it was looking at selling the railroad.
“It is with great regret and sorrow we make this announcement today, as everyone associated with this historic railroad has worked extremely hard to make it prosper and delight guests from all over the world,” said John Harper, general manager of American Heritage Railways. “With still many financial and operational unknowns to work through, AHR will announce further details in the near future regarding its plans for the facility, including finding a new owner and overseeing the divestiture of its famed locomotives and other important infrastructure assets. In the meantime, we wish to thank all of our loyal employees and volunteers who helped us celebrate the rich industrial history of the Pacific Northwest’s late 19th and early 20th-century settlement and growth.”
American Heritage Railways purchased the Washington operation, previously known as the Mt. Rainier Scenic, in 2016. According to the press release, the railroad was in “disrepair” when American Heritage Railways took over and, despite significant financial investments into the property it has continued to struggle. In the past, the Washington operation was reliant on support from American Heritage’s other property, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. In 2018, when the D&SNG was forced to shut down for more than a month due to a wildfire, the Washington operation also had to close. Officials said the coronavirus pandemic was the last straw for the Washington operation.
While numerous tourist railroads have canceled events or delayed operating schedules, Mt. Rainier appears to be the first major heritage operator to call it quits as a result of the pandemic.