• 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 Westbound31
 
The turntable has a sticking spot right around where the 360 is parked right now (between the baggage car and where the 501 used to sit. We'd pretty much open the air up in that area to get past it. Once past the spot, it functions fine but we were all trained to know where that spot was and how to get past it without stalling the table. We'd clean that turntable pit regularly and Court would go in and inspect things after. Miss those days...

We went through some pretty extensive training when I was there after passing the rules class. Getting on and off moving equipment safely by making runs back and forth in the yard, studying the yard track map and knowing the names of each track in the yard and where the "normal" positions were of each switch. We'd do yard switching or be working on equipment and once finished we'd need to go through each track and radio in to the depot that all switches in North Conway yard were locked and lined for normal.

Safe train movements were on the top of the list when I was there. We needed to know how to effectively communicate to the train crews with verbal and non-verbal communications. I remember my goal while on train service was to do the complete runaround in Conway without saying a single word or having anyone correct me. We'd all be using hand signals to coordinate the train movements and we could get that runaround done in under 3 minutes without a single word being spoken. Those guys had that railroad running like a finely oiled machine and it was something to behold. We took pride in that.

Court was the master at handling 7470 but I don't recall ever having rough train movements. Court, Paul, Rudy and Gordon were masters at their craft. I always looked forward to being on the train crew when Paul was running. Not only could he handle trains well but he'd do it in style and put on a nice show for the railfans. Those guys never sacrificed one for the other, they did both very well. They knew how to work the throttle (and reverser when running steam) while coming to a stop, gradually letting off the air and coming to the gentlest stop while the last of the air was just letting out. Great times.

Like I said it was a totally different atmosphere during those days, the feeling just isn't the same now. Last time I visited the yard one of the new employees kicked me and my wife off the grounds. I wasn't even behind one the dozens of yellow chains they have set up in their chain maze there. Only to have another new employee gather everyone back up again to bring them to the same area we got kicked off of to watch 7470 on the turntable. I just left, don't think I've been through since and don't plan on taking any rides. All of us former employees still keep in touch, still see each other and have moved on to other railroads or careers where their experience is welcomed and valued.
  by Goddraug
 
Last time I went up late last year I asked about taking a look in the yard just to glance around. Was told no, and they claimed that unless it's under direct supervision of an employee it's some insurance-related issue. I know how much of a PITA that can be so I'm willing enough to believe that.
  by Jonathan
 
Court was my favorite engineer on 7470, his whistle signature was unique, so was Paul's, although Paul mainly favored the whistle that was located behind the bell round trip, while Court would mainly use the CN 6 tender first and the whistle behind the bell nose first. That's one thing that's gone from Conway now, everyone sounds similar when blowing for a crossing. You can't tell who the engineer is before the train gets to a crossing the way you could when all the old guys were running.
  by shadyjay
 
CSRR573 wrote: Thu Apr 18, 2024 11:40 pm 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.
I was on that trip, too. The funny thing about that trip was that you'd never know there was a steam locomotive pulling it if you were a passenger on the train. They kept 7470 out of site, not even coupling it until moments before departure. We weren't allowed off the train at Crawfords, despite a lengthy stop there. And shortly later, somewhere around Fabyans, we had to stop because, as it was announced, "the fireman let the fire go out". My group was hoping for some sort of photo opp at Hazens, especially after the first 15 minute stop, then we jolted ahead, stopped, another jolt, stop. Was told it was for crew photos. And on the way back around the Irons, we lost all power, and another stop. I enjoyed the trip but was a little disappointed in the lack of a photo stop and the "snack bar" only having popcorn and accepting cash only (seems like everyone 's got a card reader nowadays). Back at N. Conway, could we see 7470? Nope... they uncoupled it and ran it north, out of sight, out of mind. So no photos of steam that day, but the chasers (who 99% probably didn't spend a dime at the rr) got their shots.
  by CSRR573
 
Westbound31 wrote: Tue Apr 23, 2024 10:55 am
Court was the master at handling 7470 but I don't recall ever having rough train movements.
Court was retired I Belvie when this Railfan trip took place.

With safety and other long-time things operationally wise seeming to take a backseat, I wonder if that has anything to do with the railroad not being apart of NORAC. This is simply a guess on my part as in older versions of the book, I'm pretty certain CSRR was a member along with the Hobo/Winni and the Valley RR, My 11th edition now longer lists them.
  by MEC407
 
Westbound31 wrote: Tue Apr 23, 2024 10:55 am We went through some pretty extensive training when I was there after passing the rules class. Getting on and off moving equipment safely by making runs back and forth in the yard, studying the yard track map and knowing the names of each track in the yard and where the "normal" positions were of each switch. We'd do yard switching or be working on equipment and once finished we'd need to go through each track and radio in to the depot that all switches in North Conway yard were locked and lined for normal.

Safe train movements were on the top of the list when I was there. We needed to know how to effectively communicate to the train crews with verbal and non-verbal communications. I remember my goal while on train service was to do the complete runaround in Conway without saying a single word or having anyone correct me. We'd all be using hand signals to coordinate the train movements and we could get that runaround done in under 3 minutes without a single word being spoken. Those guys had that railroad running like a finely oiled machine and it was something to behold. We took pride in that.
That's exactly how it was at Maine Narrow Gauge when Paul was the operations manager there. He was a great teacher, and made sure we all knew, and never forgot, that we were at a real railroad — with real consequences if something went wrong. That level of seriousness actually made it a lot more fun. When he left MNGRR to go to Conway, it was a huge loss for us, but I knew Conway would be in the best hands.
  by Westbound31
 
MEC407 wrote: Wed Apr 24, 2024 5:30 amThat's exactly how it was at Maine Narrow Gauge when Paul was the operations manager there. He was a great teacher, and made sure we all knew, and never forgot, that we were at a real railroad — with real consequences if something went wrong. That level of seriousness actually made it a lot more fun. When he left MNGRR to go to Conway, it was a huge loss for us, but I knew Conway would be in the best hands.
Paul was hands down one of the best. Took the job very seriously but did so while earning the respect of every employee there. He knew how to be safe and have fun. I really miss those old timetables at Conway Scenic. We always knew where the trains were at any given minute. From what I've observed since the takeover, schedules have steeply declined or at least adhering to them has. Hard to tell when trains are running and what time they'll be leaving/arriving. There's not a lot of consistency anymore. Like I said before, with Paul as operations manager, you could set your watch by those trains. I think Derek would have done very well in the position had he been given the chance to do so. He was selected and trained by Paul for a long time, it blows my mind that swirk didn't value that and he had to leave. Once Derek left is when scheduling and timetables became non-existent. Place is run more like a model railroad now than an actual operation.
  by CPF66
 
Westbound31 wrote: Place is run more like a model railroad now than an actual operation.
And that best summarizes the Swirk era...
  by Jonathan
 
Pardon me, but, you guys are talking about the railroad without taking the pandemic into consideration. Do you think that, had there not been a pandemic, things would be better?
  by NHV 669
 
What does the pandemic have to do with a lack of timeliness and safety culture? Or dirty equipment for that matter? How is Covid even remotely related to any of those things? I'm genuinely curious as to why you think there's any kind of correlation there...
  by CPF66
 
Things were starting to go south a whole year before covid. Covid really impacted tourism until 2022. Any attempt to use covid as a reason for pretty much anything at this point is moot. Just take a look at the google reviews about the railroad. There are roughly 200 1 star reviews from the last 3 years. Further back there are even more going all the way back to 2018 when the Swirk's first took over the railroad. The common complaints are: Late trains, dirty facilities/ cars, and poor customer service. If you want to really dig into the reviews, I dug through for about an hour and I still couldn't find a 1 star review from the pre-Swirk era, although I imagine there are probably a few but with less frequency.

But probably one of the more surprising things was the reply from the people managing the railroads social media. Many of the replies to genuine reviews with major concerns, are rude to say the least. There are a few written by Rhonda Swirk which are outright unprofessional. Based off of a few of the reviews, the railroad replied with in part or in substance "We have reached out to xxxx and this issue has been resolved" to a number of factual reviews. Luckily the original posters, saw the reply and edited their reviews, noting that the railroad hadn't infact contacted them or resolved the issue. It also sounds like there are a few employees who continually are rude to passengers. Which I often take that type of review with a grain of salt, but there are enough referencing what sounds like the same couple of people, with the same interaction, that I believe it.

There also seems to be a lot of issues with the HVAC and intercom systems on the trains, which the railroad doesn't seem to make a priority. And a lot of comments mention being left stranded for hours after mechanical failures with the locomotive. Which I don't think I ever heard about that happening frequently, until recently. I get the railroad is trying to operate year round, which good for them. But traditionally the winter season was time for the railroad to do heavy maintenance and I believe they used to go through every car through the winter to make sure there were no issues come tourist season. And it seems like now the railroad stamps out the fires as they happen.

I think definitely without the Pandemic things probably would have been better in 2020 and 2021 ridership wise. However trying to use covid as an excuse for anything else is just shifting the blame off the management. Look at how many tourist railroads went through the same trials as Conway did. Generally speaking the only ones which closed up shop, did so due to background issues, not just covid. But since then, I can't really think of any which haven't been able to recoup the ridership. Or in this case, improve the railroads operations. Which it seems like Conway is the only one with that issue.
  by NHV 669
 
No it doesn't.... that's not what's being implied at all. There will always be a demand for a train ride in Conway, long after Swirk and Sullivan are done with it. It's far too big a draw to disappear, and regardless of how it's currently being run, equipment continues to be added to the fleet.

What's being said is simply that there are vast improvements that need to be made, both operationally and managerial wise.

Add in an actual qualified operations manager again, and a marketing director who can provide prompt professional responses, and answers to questions that people may have (like the former employee Susan who did a terrific job), instead of the owner's wife giving false or confrontational answers to reviews, the company more or less ignoring emails, and a "marketing director" who spends too much time promoting himself and his photography business and doing radio appearances (is he even still there?)
  by CPF66
 
Exactly.

There will always be a pipeline of tourists from MA, and NY/NJ lining up at the ticket window. Although they may end up with a subpar trip due to the previously mentioned issues, they will likely not be back. But you have to keep in mind, if Conway fixed the issues with marketing and customer service, it would go a long way, and they would likely end up with more riders from referrals.

I would say that they need to hire a new OPM to fix the railroad. Someone who views the place a business and is smart enough to run it as such. The second step would be to get the Swirks as far away from the day to day operations as possible. If that means someone buying them out, or Swirk ending up with another side hobby, but bottom line they need to stop messing with the place and let someone else fix it. And frankly I have a feeling Swirk probably would be ok with that just as long as he can make his yearly appearance on 7470 and wave to the cameras. The next step would be improving the physical plant. The NOCO station and grounds need serious attention, and with the staffing shortages, it would probably be best to let an outside landscape/property maintenance company handle it. With the new cars, instead of throwing those onto the end of the notch train, they should use them to pull the current fleet out of service for major overhauls. I imagine the HVAC systems could be replaced along with the generators, since they must be 10+ years old at this point and seem to have frequent failures. Get all the mechanical and electrical problems repaired, and then paint everything in the active fleet. As for locomotives, I think there is a good sized deadline at NOCO. It sounds like everything needs major work aside from the two GP38's.
At this point there isn't enough space or staff to rebuild them in house. The best bet would be to send 216,573, and 1751 up to CAD in Montreal and have them tear through the units and fix anything which is a current issue, or that will become one in the future. I know right now 573 needs an overhaul. 216 has electrical gremlins as well as structural rot on the nose which is preventing it from being used, and 1751 I think still has bad wheels (I think they did a quick fix with one of those wheel reshaping brake shoes) as well as the typical mechanical and electrical issues. Then for the sake of the company image, those should get fresh paint as well. In the meantime the GP38's could be used to fill the void and I am sure the 470 Club would allow either the F units or the GP9 to be used in the meantime.
Once the three units return from CAD, over the winter 252 and 255 should be rebuilt as well. I heard 252 still has some mechanical issues after the crank shaft decided to self destruct (which now that I say that, I almost want to say there was a known issue with the 252, but they were short on power and sent it out that day anyway). 255 is a mess, VTR didn't want it and I don't know why Conway bought it. There was another MEC GP38 for sale around the same time which needed a lot less work. It needs a major rebuild, because it leaks oil worse than the Exxon Valdez and has had electrical issues for years and it is extremely slippery. I know a few people who used it on VTR and it was a PITA to keep its feet under it. Plus both of those units could use a fresh coat of paint.
I should also note the employee professionalism piece and the issues with late trains could be resolved by a good OPM. I also think more investors need to be brought into the railroad. More people would bring more capital improvements into the railroad, and may also help to cut down the number of midnight impulse purchases by Swirk. Investors who aren't railfans may also help to get the place running more like a railroad and less like a hodgepodge train set.

To resolve the two other common complaints with the railroad, they should finish rehabbing the wye at Jct and run the Mountaineer up there vs running around at Crawfords. A common complaint is that they make passengers switch sides so everyone gets the same view. If they just make the wye move apart of the trip (although making the trip longer) and explain that its just how they run the operation, it could entirely resolve that issue, and avoid arguments between customers if someone refuses to change sides.
The other complaint is the "junk" cars which seem to be everywhere. I know the long term goal is to put a storage facility in at Conway along with doing something with the historic buildings they have moved there. It might be worth just building a few sidings and stuffing the photo freight equipment and the freight cars which are being stored, down there and market as some sort of New Hampshire Railroad museum and offer some guided tours or something. The other option would be to rehab the sidings down by where the old open air cars were, and fence it off to prevent future vandalism. As for the passenger cars near Bartlett, I am wondering why those still exist. Its been discussed for years that they were going to be scrapped. At this point, it would make sense to finish parting them out and then send them to the heap. They are an eyesore and attract trespassers, as multiple travel sites list them as being a popular tourist spot.

Its worth stating once again, that 99% of Conways riders are not railfans. When we see a rusty boxcar in storage on a siding, we know its in the process of being restored. But when paying customers see it, its just rolling scrap metal. So its best to keep that stuff out of the publics sight. It might also be time for the railroad to start buying real-estate in the valley. Urban encroachment is another complaint, as more and more houses and condos take up what where scenic views.
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