The Sierra Dinner Train has left the station, and the city all together.
The tourist train has stopped operation in Oakdale, at least temporarily, as part of a new partnership with the Napa Valley Wine Train. Instead the company has lent nearly all of its railcars to the popular Napa county train to use while it undergoes renovation on its existing cars.
“The results haven’t been there the last few years for the business in Oakdale. So when the deal with Napa came about last fall it all happened rather quickly,” said Christopher Hart, who serves as president of the Sierra Railroad Company’s tourist train operations. “But this was certainly a hard thing for my brother and I to decide to put a hold on operations for the moment in Oakdale.”
Hart and his brother, Michael, launched the Sierra Dinner Train in December 1999. The Sierra Railroad Company owns the Oakdale train, the Sacramento River Train and Mendocino County’s Skunk Train. Its Sacramento and Mendocino lines are still running, but the Oakdale train ceased operation in October and will be down until least the Napa train’s renovations are completed in 2019.
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The Sierra Dinner Train offered trips weekly as well as special excursions through the year including holiday-themed and specialty beer and wine trains. But Hart said in the last couple of years business had fallen off on its Oakdale train while it had remained strong at its Sacramento and Mendocino sites.
The Napa train will use a locomotive and seven of the existing eight cars from the Sierra Dinner Train for it various excursions while it own cars undergo renovations. The remaining Sierra Dinner Train car is being used by the Sacramento River Train. The cars were all shipped out, via rail, last week and should arrive in their new destinations by the end of this week.
Hart said the deal comes on the heels of the Sierra Dinner Train’s own renovation in 2016. The company spent over $1 million updating the trains inside and out.
The future of the Sierra Dinner Train past 2019 is still up in the air. Both the Sierra Railroad Company and the Napa Valley Wine Train said there is potential for the partnership to continue beyond the renovation period. But no solid plans have been completed.
“My brother and I still very interested in tourist operations on the Sierra branch, and we are exploring what the best operation would be and whether we’d bring in partners on this,” Chris Hart said.
The Sierra branch has a combined 55 miles of railway from Riverbank to Oakdale and up through Tuolumne County into Jamestown, Sonora and Standard. The Sierra Dinner Train operated on a 16-mile out-and-back trip from Oakdale. But Hart said in the future the train could utilize different parts of the track as well. The historic railway has been a popular destination for film and television productions over the years, including serving as a backdrop for “Back to the Future III.”
So let’s hope, sometime in the not too distant future, we hear an “All aboard!” on the Sierra Dinner Train again.