Mar 30, 2020

Hello Friends,

I’m writing to you in the hopes that you and your loved ones are safe & healthy.  In this unprecedented time, I wanted to let you know that we are all thinking about you and your families.  We view you as part of our big railroad family and we are greatly looking forward to seeing you on the train in the future. 

I’d like to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about our non-profit railroad organization.  Since our foundation 29 years ago our goal has been to educate people about our nation’s rich railroad history and provide a safe fun family experience on historic trains.   Long before Covid 19, our organization placed your health and safety as our number one priority.  Due to several of our volunteers coming from the healthcare industry, we have always placed you as our highest priority.   We have always provided ample hand sanitizer onboard our trains and we follow very strict guidelines for our kitchens and staff.

Thanks to your continued support our non-profit is healthy and working on several projects. Currently we are working on our recently acquired 1955 EMD E-9 locomotive #32a.  The locomotive is getting more modern electronics that will be compatible with the new positive train control (PTC) guidelines and shop forces have begun the process of replacing the rusted steel in preparation for new paint later this spring.  The estimated cost of the upgrades will be about $40,000. To the right are some photos of the progress.  Steam locomotive 261 is fully operational and we are exploring several possible operations in 2020 and 2021.  

Later this summer the locomotive will undergo it’s federally required flexible stay-bolt inspection and the locomotive will likely get repainted.  We continue to make significant upgrades to our passenger fleet, current projects include new upholstery in the observation end of the Cedar Rapids, new window glass in several cars and interior upgrades to several cars.  We are trying to design a more flexible seating arrangement to give passengers a better view out the windows.  We will test the layout in a handful of locations on the train in 2020.

On the operating front, earlier this year we had been working with Amtrak to again operate an excursion along the Mississippi River. The excursion would not include the 261 due to PTC requirements and would be powered by Amtrak locomotives. We are still moving forward with plans to operate this train on October 3 & 4. We hope to have additional news in the coming weeks. We have also been looking at returning to Chicago with our private cars on the rear of Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Looking towards Christmas we are all hoping to have the virus in the past and make this Christmas special. Our North Pole Express trains are scheduled for the first two weeks in December at Union Depot in St. Paul and we can’t wait to see all our friends once again. 2021 expects to be a great year for the 261, our group has been asked to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Twin Cities & Western Railroad. With our recently acquired 1955 diesel locomotive and the 261 we expect to offer several unique excursions.

Normally this would be the point that I’d ask for a donation to our non-profit, I think it is more important for you to reach out and support someone in need at this time. The best way to support our organization is to join our membership with the link above and ride our trains in the future. In closing, I’d like to wish all of you are safe and healthy in the coming weeks. While riding excursion trains is not an essential industry, we do think that a smile on grandchild’s face or the belly laugh from a grandparent is an essential part of life.  Right now we’d ask everyone to take care of your loved ones, help your neighborhood and support those less fortunate. There will be plenty of time to ride, smile and enjoy trains in the future.


Steven Sandberg

261 Friend & Founder

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