Fillmore & Western Railway Company future at stake: County officials want to redirect funds from railway to public transportation
By Shane Cohn 04/25/2013
An e-mail from Fillmore & Western Railway Company claims the director and a few commissioners of the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) would like to shut down the Santa Paula branch line and put Fillmore & Western out of business.
Sent on Monday, April 22, the letter asks friends and tourism partners to attend a lunch meeting on Thursday, April 25, “to inform you, educate you about the history of the branch line and why it was purchased by VCTC 20 years ago, and the vision of those who adopted the policies that are now being ignored and blatantly disregarded.”
The railway company, located in Fillmore, operates a tourist train service, local excursions, and leases railroad cars to the film industry. The track is owned by VCTC.
Co-owner David Wilkinson said county supervisors and the VCTC are considering mothballing the operation because they say it’s not economically viable.
“They’re complaining that it’s not profitable, but not doing anything to make it profitable,” said Wilkinson. “There are ways, but they haven’t lifted a finger and want to create a situation where we pay for all maintenance.”
Wilkinson said the railway company is considering an offer to move its business to Oregon.
“They have been getting subsidized by transit money for operation of the train,” said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1. “We have some real critical transit issues in this county. For example, kids in Fillmore and Santa Paula can’t get to Ventura College in the evening because they can’t get proper bus service. We’re saying transit dollars have to be spent for transit needs. That train has not been a significant transit train at all.”
The letter, signed by Kathleen McCreary, director of sales and marketing, said that if the railway company is shut down, “not only would I lose my job, but so would many other families employed by the railroad. Also consider the economic impact of not having the 50,000 to 70,000 tourists that come to ride the train each year, to shop in our stores, stay in our hotels, etc.”
McCreary asked supporters of the railway to engage in a letter-writing campaign to the VCTC and Supervisor Kathy Long, who represents the Fillmore and Santa Paula district.