Big changes for Elbe rail venture

Something new is coming down the tracks in Elbe. Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR), whose historic steam trains based there have carried passengers on sightseeing trips through and between foothill communities near the mountain since 1981, is now under new ownership and rebranded as Mt. Rainier Railroad. The railroad's pioneer and founder, Tom Murray, has handed the baton to rail industry entrepreneur Al Harper and entertainment expert Wayne Rankin. They're planning to add new attractions to the tourism-driven rail line that they believe will "dramaticallyGÇ¥ increase its business. "We're rebuilding the guest experience from the ground up,GÇ¥ Harper said. Rankin, president of the new company, was MRSR's executive director the past two years. He's a former employee of The Walt Disney Co. and Sega GameWorks, part of his 30-plus years in the entertainment and hospitality industries. With Disney, he worked in developing family entrtainment faiclities in Las Vegas, Nev. Similarly, Sega GameWorks hired him to oversee the construction and staffing of entertainment faclities in the Las Vegas area. Harper's background is in train-related productions. He and his wife, Carol, also own Rail Events, which since 2000 has staged live events involving railroads in the United States and Canada, including the Warner Bros. production of Polar Express GÇô which now will come to Mt. Rainier Railroad starting this November and December. Last year, more than 7,000 people went to Elbe to ride the Santa Express that was an annual MRSR attraction. Polar Express is projected to increase ridership to 18,000 passengers for the holiday experience, according to Harper. "Visitors can expect a whole new production,GÇ¥ he said. "We're taking what we know works and applying those best practices to operations. We're doubling the size of payroll and making an immediate investment into the railroad.GÇ¥ The involvement of Harper, whose career spans 40 years in tourism and development, opens new opportunities, said Rankin. "Exciting changes are taking place,GÇ¥ he said. "We look forward to welcoming guests in the spring.GÇ¥ MRSR was founded in 1981 as Murray helped build what is reputedly one of the premier collections of steam-powered logging locomotives and equipment in North America. The Elbe-based railroad's place as living history is secure, Rankin promised. "Preservation of the historic steam train collection and steam train excursions is our priority,GÇ¥ he said. "We will continue with a larger vision for the future, and we plan to dramatically increase ridership and improve the guest experience.GÇ¥ Plans include expanded and enhanced facilities, new exhibits and "special events,GÇ¥ Rankin said. "We're also focused on bringing interactive elements to the museum to blend education with entertainment.GÇ¥ Mt. Rainier Railroad will continue the weekly train rides (about 60,000 passengers are expected this year) from Elbe to Mineral, where its logging museum is run as a non-profit organization under the direction of Western Forest Industries Museum.


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