The Royal Gorge

Western Pacific had a problem. With the successful inauguration of the Oakland to Chicago vista-domed California Zephyr in March 1949 local stops formerly made by its predecessor, the Exposition Flyer were now impossible with its fixed consists and fast through schedule designed to attract the long haul cross-country passenger. In Nevada and western Utah where two thirds of the railroads track mileage was located, with or without automobile competition, the sparse population offered low passenger traffic potential but movement of company employees, food, supplies, and mail was still a necessity. Enter the Royal Gorge, a secondary train, Nos. 1 and 2, complete with Pullman sleepers, coaches, a diner-lounge and head-end equipment.

Although past experience had demonstrated that the operation of a secondary passenger train had always resulted in a severe financial loss, the Royal Gorge was established with the hope that by utilizing all possible means of obtaining business and by aggressive promotion, the train could be kept in service. Efforts were made to increase patronage by leasing modern coaches and introducing lower coach fares. Attempts to obtain additional mail revenues were made and the possibilities of obtaining through carload merchandise express were also investigated. In addition, the possibility of handling through cars of less than carload freight between Oakland and Salt Lake City was explored. The possibility of establishing the Royal Gorge as another crack train, tying in with other railroads to operate a through service to Midwestern cities was discussed with partnering railroads but in all cases it developed that either these efforts were to be unsuccessful or the potential of traffic which could be reasonably anticipated failed to approach a level consistent with sound business practice.

Although fully aware of the desirability from several standpoints of operating a through passenger train in addition to the California Zephyr the Royal Gorge was failing to meet its costs of operation by a net loss amounting to approximately $2,700 a day, or at a rate of net loss of over $950,000 a year. In eight months of operation it had carried an average daily load of less than sixty revenue passengers per train, which dropped further to forty per train. In those eight months of operation train revenues averaged $1.19 per train mile, but since the expenses were approximately $2.69 per train mile, there was a net loss per train mile of $1.50.

Even with the measures taken and the strenuous solicitation of business the railroad could not reduce the staggering "hard-core" out of pocket loss the first year. By the end of the year losses on the secondary passenger train had been sufficient enough, and the company was willing to accept a large financial loss because of the many reasons it was desirable to retain the train, continuing operation with the losses actually being incurred was deemed impossible.

In November 1949 the decision had been made that the Royal Gorge would be discontinued as soon as the necessary formalities could be effected and in view of the incontrovertible statistics, no material opposition to complete discontinuance was expected. In the meantime Pullman and diner service was curtailed, and the train reduced to coaches and head-end cars. Efforts were now being concentrated on the California Zephyr, so that the prestige and fine public acceptance for that train that had been witnessed since March would be maintained.

In notifying employees of the decision to seek discontinuance President Whitman expressed his appreciation for the sincere efforts that had been made by the train, engine, dining car crews, and other personnel connected with the operation of the Royal Gorge in the attempt to make its continued operation possible. He also acknowledged they had done everything they possibly could to provide the passengers with a smooth and pleasant trip.

Application was then made to the Interstate Commerce Commission seeking total discontinuance of the train.

It was clear that public patronage would not support a conventional local train. Likewise, the W.P. could not carry on its own business without some means of transportation for employees to and from remote posts at some 20 locations in the Feather River canyon and in the deserts of Nevada and Utah where rail service was the sole dependable year-round means of transport for Western Pacific employees and their families.

The possibility of a bus and truck service for employees was studied thoroughly. By auto, a staff assistant to the president sought to gain access to every siding, section house, or other sites where employees were stationed. At some places no roads of any kind existed; at others they were so primitive as to be impassable for long periods during bad weather. To and from accessible locations, transportation by chartered bus or company truck of essential (but non-revenue) passengers engaged in the normal operation and maintenance of the railroad was estimated to cost about $165,000 annually, including $130,000 for movement of maintenance-of-way laborers to and from job sites.

About the time these difficult factors required resolution, surprisingly, approval for discontinuance of daily operations of the Royal Gorge was granted by the ICC with a requirement that tri-weekly service between Oakland and Salt Lake City be instituted as a replacement for the daily service. Enter the RDC "Zephyrettes".