• Conway Scenic Railroad (CSRX) discussion thread

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

Moderators: MEC407, NHN503

  by Jonathan
I heard Court wasn't there anymore, I used to love going to that crossing just to talk to him (also, that crossing is a go to place for special events if you don't want a crowd of people in your shot, just a helpful tip) It's a shame that 7470 isn't used as often, and Court really put his effort into 7470 as a mechanic and as an engineer. I've noticed that August 3rd and 4th has no departures listed for the Conway run, Sawyer river run or the Mountaineer. Maybe the event that you guys are talking about is going to have a different schedule.
  by CPF66
Thats unfortunate, I haven't been to Conway Scenic in atleast a year or two, but he was always there. Until Railfans Day more or less got the axe, unless you are a paying excursion passenger he would come back and help run trains.

As for the website, it could just be an issue with Conway's website. Its had a lot of issues for 5+ years. I would say a combination of people not updating it frequently and some technical issues. I am not sure if Brian Soloman is still with the railroad, but it seemed like things were smoother when he was running things. I believe Rhonda Swirk handles some of that stuff as well, including the Facebook page. I remember there was a time where they disabled comments on posts back when it seemed like the place was falling apart at the seams. About the same time she was leaving very rude replies to honest reviews by customers of the railroad if they left anything but a 5 star review. Which isn't necessarily the best customer service move.
  by Jonathan
It has been mentioned here that there will be a special event August 3-4, so, i'm guessing that that is the reason why there are no departures for those two days.
  by CSRR573
CPF66 wrote: Wed Apr 17, 2024 3:51 pm Thats unfortunate, I haven't been to Conway Scenic in atleast a year or two, but he was always there. Until Railfans Day more or less got the axe, unless you are a paying excursion passenger he would come back and help run trains.
Last year was the first time in 32 years I didnt make a trip up to the Railroad. Ever since the veteran guys retired and Swirk took over, the place just isnt the same. Its a shame
  by CPF66
Truer words have never been said.

Russ Staybold may not of had the 7470 running at the end, but at least stuff was clean, the grounds were kept very nice, and the employees (Many who have moved onto successful careers for freight roads) seemed to be well trained and competent.

Last I heard Swirk was relying on "child labor" to fill many of the positions on the railroad. I believe they are able to skirt some FRA guidelines on the age of the employees under the pretext of an apprenticeship. I know G&W has done it with a few railroads they own. I am sure there are some good workers at Conway now, but at least from my last trip the dink to competent ratio was pretty lopsided. I am not sure how things are today, but I remember that safety was taken seriously years ago, and if you didn't comply with the rules you got tossed out of the company. Which that seemed to separate the rabid foamers out of the herd. I know they fired at least one guy who was a repeat rules violator. I think he was the same one who was making up lies a few years ago on Facebook about how Pan Am crews gave him cab rides all the time and about how the guys in the shop at Waterville let him run units in the yard and whatnot. It probably wouldn't have been taken seriously, but I think he named dropped half a dozen employees who were then investigated by the railroad and then disciplined despite the false allegations.
  by Jonathan
For all the bad-mouthing that the Swirk guys got here, by that tidbit of info you just gave, at least they care about safety on the railroad. I am not one of the guys that think that Dave's ruining the railroad, I feel that, had the COVID 19 pandemic not happened, Conway Scenic would be just as good now as it was the first two years Dave owned it. I went to the first Railfans Weekend he had in 2018, and had a blast chasing the freight extra that day, it really felt like I was transported back into the heyday of the Boston and Maine (although, in hindsight, I should have gone in 2019, because 7470 pulled the freight train that year, but 4266 and 573 paired together was still cool to see).
  by b&m 1566
Jonathan, I agree with you, the COVID shut down changed everything, things have not been the same since and it's not just related to this railroad. Heritage operations all over the country took a hard hit and some we lost permanently. As for the Conway Scenic, I remember what the schedule looked like prior to the shut down, as the schedule had been released a few weeks before the Pandemic hit. The Notch Train was scheduled to operate Tuesday - Sunday with only Monday being the off day, they had the normal 5 daily departures of Conway & Bartlett scheduled that year, including the lunch and dinner trains and other events.
  by NHV 669
Jonathan wrote: Thu Apr 18, 2024 9:16 am For all the bad-mouthing that the Swirk guys got here, by that tidbit of info you just gave, at least they care about safety on the railroad.
Safety now is a conductor flagging a crossing, attempting to toss the flag back onto the unit, and bending down in front of a moving locomotive to pick it back up.

Lest we forget putting the prized dome into the roundhouse the wrong way on more than one occasion causing damage to both, or almost having a locomotive get away, as previously stated here.

Sounds like you have a different idea of what "safety" is.
  by CPF66
The dome was caused by incompetence. Swirk was told it wouldn't fit in that bay, but tried ramming it in there with a backhoe anyway just to damage the dome and to shatter a century old wooden beam which was supporting the roof of the roundhouse. Then you have his attempt to rerail a derailed passenger car at the south end of NOCO yard with a backhoe, just for the car to slide off the blocking it was on, almost crushing an employee. Not to mention the moves of the excavator on that flatcar without any sort of securement. Or the attempts to ram the notch open during the winter months to retrieve one of the new domes which wasn't needed until summer, despite multiple individuals who had 20+ years railroad experience saying it was a bad idea to keep running plow extras with light power, and not flanging the line. And that resulted in 252 derailing at Sawyer River, which had the crews not refused to go on further plow extras, it probably would have happened again in the notch.

As for 2018-2019, thats also when they still had a operations manager. Derek who had been trained for 10+ years under Paul Hallett, took over about the time of the sale. He had more experience with the railroad than the Swirks did and routinely butted heads with them, which lead to his termination and Swirk taking over as the Ops Manager. Towards the end of 2019 was when things started to turn into a disaster. Railfans Day with the 7470 going to Hazens was supposed to include several run bys for passengers which never happened. The air show excursion was a disaster, Swirk who was running the 7470 had a hard time keeping the feet under it, so they got to Hazens as the last plane was taking off. That screwed over all the passengers on the train who had bought airshow tickets. Not only that, but Conway had sold tickets for people at the air show to ride to Faybans and back on the train while the passenger from NOCO were at the airshow. Those individuals never got to ride, as the train had to turn back immediately after getting to Hazens so the crew would have enough time to get to Conway. As a ticketholder for the airshow to Fayban excursion, I can confirm that the railroad never offered refunds or vouchers for it.

Covid definitely hurt them from 2020-2021, but ridership has returned to normal levels. Covid is not an excuse for all of the poor decisions and impulse purchases made by the railroad over the last few years. At one point the railroad was down to just the 573 and 252 for operational power, as maintenance had been differed on the rest of the fleet. Thats one of the reasons why 255 was purchased. Don't forget that Swirk used to manage the Grafton & Upton and allowed the entire engine fleet to crap the bed, causing the railroad to get the GMTX MP15 to keep the traffic moving.
Last edited by MEC407 on Thu Apr 18, 2024 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total. Reason: unnecessary quoting
  by Jonathan
Thank you for bringing up the airshow, people wanna say that the diesels did all the work, I chased the excursion that day and I can confirm that 7470 was working hard when I caught her in Gateway. As for the no refunds or vouchers, that is surprising and a bit saddening to hear, and I bet it's frustrating for ticket holders like yourself and especially for the people in the car with no AC I remember reading about.

I always wondered, when 7470 went to Hazens in 2019, she had a tanker as a auxiliary water car behind her, but when it made the trip 8 years earlier, it didn't and i'm wondering what the need for the tanker car was. Don't get me wrong, it was a great idea, but it didn't need the tanker in 2011.
  by b&m 1566
I was on the railfan excursion for 7470's trip to Hazen's that September, there were no planned photo runs for that trip, that was confirmed before departure. I can also say that 7470 did not pull very much through the notch, the diesels pushed, they backing off slightly so 7470 could put on a show at Frankenstein Trestle and again from Willey Brook Bridge to Crawford's station. Outside of the notch, 7470 handled most of the journey, there was some shoving up the grade from Cooks Crossing to Rogers Crossing and then again near 2nd Iron but the real shoving started at the S curve just before Notchland. There was an attempt to let 7470 do most of the work starting at Arethusa Falls but they only made it about halfway to the trestle when Gordon had to throttled up.
  by CSRR573
Do you remember when we got to Hazens and Swirk had to just get the right picture of him with 7470? The train handling when they were trying to pose the engine was extremely rough. Back and forth, back and forth, cars slamming together, no explanation from the crews then just turned around back to N. Conway. The AC on the Rhonda Lee died around second iron I believe also. The best part of that trip was the rare mileage from Redstone to the bridge before the Saco.

The Railroad, from my memory, has never looked as poor as it has now, mismatched consists, filthy rolling stock and locomotives, and from pictures ive seen, a yard that looks like it could fit right in in PC world of the 70's
Last edited by MEC407 on Fri Apr 19, 2024 5:37 am, edited 1 time in total. Reason: unnecessary quoting
  by CPF66
I get that they see a need for more rolling stock/updating the fleet. But the company image matters, dirty equipment and peeling paint aren't necessarily a good first impression. 255's red is peeling off bad, and MEC paint is starting to show through. Which I suppose if they let it wear off, eventually it will just be in a faded MEC scheme at some point.
  by Westbound31
As a former employee of the railroad, I'm easily dismissed as just having a vendetta against Swirk. Say what you will but let me tell you, from direct personal experience, the atmosphere at the railroad under Russ and Paul was worlds apart from what it is under the Swirks. I truly don't understand how some people can still defend Swirk after all this time. Under Russ and Paul, the railroad was a finely oiled machine. I always kept a timetable on me even when not on duty. You could set your watch by that timetable, those trains adhered to a schedule. If train 10 was scheduled to arrive at Conway at 10:55am, depart Conway as train 11 at 11:03am, arrive at North Conway at 11:25am and depart for Bartlett at 11:30am and be at Intervale at 11:37am, it was so. This was the first red flag for me once they got 7470 up and running again. Knowing the timetable and witnessing train 31 departing North Conway 45 minutes late while watching a new employee foul multiple switches. It's not that none of us didn't give the guy a chance. But when he insisted on not listening to experienced railroaders and even terminating them for speaking up, things changed. People left. And now we're here.

I look at the railroad now and the direction that it's going is not tailored towards railfans or focusing on what they have and what they do well. Dwight focused a lot of the railfan community but was smart enough to know that they weren't his only client base. Russ came in and expanded the operations from one train to two all the way to Fabyans. Even Russ didn't lose sight of the railfans and Paul did a great job of focusing on railfan specific events. The Conway Scenic is not a railfan friendly railroad anymore, swirk has no interest in this clientele. It is afterall the smaller market. Most people who go to the railroad are riding the train because it's something to do. They're promised a scenic ride and so they buy a ticket. These are the people who are also taking their kids to Story Land, Santas Village, Clarks, etc.

I can completely understand from a business perspective why swirk would focus less on the the railfan community and more on the everyday tourist. The everyday tourist doesn't care the age of the passenger car they're riding on, they don't care what color the diesel is that's pulling the train or if the paint matches the heritage of the engine or the line it's on. They don't know the history of the Conway Branch or the Mountain Division and most of them probably wouldn't notice 7470 pulling the train over 573. If you look at the buses purchased for the Cruise trains, the additional rolling stock, the re-ballasting of the ROWs, the endless chaining off of the platforms and yards, you can see that the railroad is headed in a very different direction than the Conway Scenic that most of us grew up with and experienced. If that's what swirk wants to do, that's what he'll do, he owns the railroad and that's it, end of story.

That said, what the tourist clientele will care about are dirty passenger cars, PA systems that are either too loud and distorted or don't work at all, air conditioning that doesn't function, bathrooms that are closed off, schedules that aren't adhered to and an overall cluttered and dirty look to the place. That will eventually come back to bite him. If you look at recent reviews on Trip Advisor, these everyday tourists really aren't happy about the quality of the service they're being provided. But with the amount of visitors that come to the MWV, he really doesn't have to care because he has an almost endless supply of new people. It's just a money making operation for swirk at this point. Outward appearance isn't a concern as long as people are coming to the door and buying an admission ticket to ride a dirty and off schedule train.

I think the majority of us at this point who fell in love with railroading because of our early experiences at Conway Scenic have come to terms that that place no longer exists. It's gone. Swirk bought the place and took away something very special to the majority of us in this community and has made it clear that he doesn't care and doesn't want us back. My fondest memories of Conway Scenic are walking the yard late summer nights with my grandpa who would teach me all about the various equipment and buildings. We even had employees notice us walking around and would answer questions or show us what they're working on in the roundhouse. It pains me that I can't do the same with my kid anymore but there's nothing I can do. It sucks but it just is what it is now. I wouldn't keep speculating on when we'll see 7470 or 501 out there on the rails again because I just don't see that happening from the direction I'm seeing the railroad going. I hope things change but I'm not holding my breath.
  by Jonathan
I strongly disagree, I think we will see 7470 under steam again, the swirks would be crazy not to fix what's wrong with it!
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