© November 02, 2010
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What’s Happening to the Riverside Live Steamers?
Written by David Parrott
Way back in 1966, the Riverside Live Steamers became an officially recognized club operating within the city’s recently acquired Hunter Park: a beautiful, forty-four acre piece of land donated to the City of Riverside by the Hunter family in order to preserve the tiny railroad and the locomotive that ran on it. Since that time, the railroad has been improved, lengthened and opened to the public for run days. Until recently, RLS has operated almost consistently since those early days, safely pulling tens of thousands of adults and children. Our tally does not include the countless rides made by its members, their family members and guests, and the thousands of other railroaders who have visited from as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia. Recently, however, our operations have come upon some trying times, but not due to membership or political problems. In fact, the problem isn’t really a problem at all.
Official ribbon cutting ceremony in 1966.
In the early 1980’s, the City of Riverside voted to set aside funds that would become the foundation for a program to refurbish and/or completely rebuild several of their public parks. At its conception, it was thought the project would begin in the late 80’s and be completed by 2000. Among those listed was our very own, Hunter Park. Several times, RLS was put on notice that “this was the year” of our park’s renovation, but to no avail. Eventually, it became the boy who cried wolf: about every other year, we’d get notice that “this was the year”, and the RLS’s response became a Bill Cosby “Noah” routine, “Riiiight.” By 2000, this project was shelved and the RLS happily steamed into the future.
Fast-forward a few years: A new state and federal project was coming online that was sure to have an effect on operations at the Riverside Live Steamers. In 2004, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad completed its infrastructure project of adding a third track to its mainline that passed through Riverside. Once complete, studies showed that automobile traffic was severely impacted by the nearly 130 trains that traversed the city each day.
With total traffic delay time reaching three hours or more at most of their grade-crossings each day, officials realized that not only was there an efficiency problem, there was also an emergency problem: Stuck among the many trucks and cars waiting for trains to pass were ambulances, paramedics, and fire trucks. Committees were formed, meetings were scheduled, arguments were heard, and plans were made. Of the 70 grade-crossings within the city of Riverside, 26 were going to have overpasses installed, one of those being Columbia Street, RLS’s home avenue. Riverside Live Steamers was put on notice… and this time it would really happen.
In mid- 2008, ground was broken for the beginning of the 14-month long Columbia Street/BNSF Overpass Project. Plans showed that Hunter Park would lose about 50 feet of its northern face to allow for the widening of Columbia St. plus the addition of an access road for local businesses and Riverside Live Steamers. The loss of land would encroach over our compound lead and our mainline at a point called Panorama Siding. The writing was on the wall: RLS would have to close from March 2009 through August, while the overpass was built.
Being closed for six months was a pretty big bummer. However, to rub salt in our wounds, right smack in the middle of the Overpass Project, RLS was hit by another blow. Renamed the Renaissance Project, the city’s park-rebuilding program had been reinstated after a several-year hiatus. Once the Riverside Park’s Department had sorted out the details, it appeared that this time around, Hunter Park was at the top of the list. Indeed, a Park’s Dept. representative called the RLS and said, “This was the year” … and they were dead serious.
Meetings between city officials and the RLS began in earnest. Plans were made, blueprints drawn, and orders were issued. The way it was looking, shortly after we’d get our railroad rebuilt from the BNSF project, we’d have to close down again while the entire park was reconstructed over a sixteen-month period.
Even though the BNSF Overpass Project officially came to an end in July 2010, our railroad had actually been back in operation since September 2009. To do so, we had to move our public station from the north side of the park to the south side. At the end of the BNSF project, we had to move back to the north side because the Renaissance Project had begun. The construction workers first job? Tear down the temporary station we built on the south side of the park, causing us to close down our outer loop and run only on our short loop.
So, what will RLS receive for our railroad being closed periodically over the next twelve months? For starters, our mainline will be separated from the sports area (specifically the soccer/rugby field). Paying attention to our concerns, the city will move the parking lot to the outside edges of the park, eliminating the dangerous crossing into the sports area. We also get lighted and paved walking trails plus several quaint picnic areas. How about a railroad-themed play area for the kidlets? It’ll be there! But, the “coop d’ résistance” will be our new station next to the covered picnic area, concession stand, and restrooms. This really is a lot more than a rebuilding program: It is a true “renaissance” of Hunter Park.
Before Renaissance Project (click)
Many scale railroaders have contacted the RLS with inquires since the announcement on Discover Live Steam’s Calendar of our 2010 Fall Meet being cancelled. Several feared that, like a number of other railroads operating in public parks, we were under attack by political officials hoping to close our club. It most certainly is not that. The beginning of this article says our “…problem isn’t really a problem at all”. Yes, we are shut down right now; yes, when we resume operations again (December/January), it will only be on our short loop; yes, the park appears to be in a state of disarray; yes, it is inconvenient right now. However, once the park project is complete, we will be operating our full-loop mainline through a beautiful setting and we sincerely hope you’ll join us when we rededicate the new Hunter Park. To find out what days we’ll be running, plus keep an eye on the park’s progress, log onto the RLS website at www.steamonly.org .
Written by David Parrott
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