Mt. Hood Railroad plans to start its spring season on March 20 with a Groupon offer that will run through April 26. Manager Ron Kauffman said the offer, which will discount regular retail prices up to 45 percent, will launch the week of March 16.
While the railroad intended to start spring passenger service in late February, Kaufmann said that they were waiting for new equipment, including locomotives, to arrive and decided to push back the start date.
“I’ve been here 32 years and you know, we’ve had the same locomotives,” Kaufmann said. “It’s time to make some upgrades.”
All booking for the spring season will be done via Groupon up until the offer expires: Passengers purchase their tickets on Groupon and call the railroad to schedule their ride. Passengers won’t be able to book via the railroad’s website until the offer expires, Kaufmann said, because they’re working towards launching a revamped version of their website.
To handle the volume of phone reservations, Kaufmann said that the railroad will be hiring call center operatives in Hood River.
“I’m actually excited that we’re moving the call center back to Hood River,” Kaufmann said, adding that calls had previously been handled in an off-site, centralized location. “It just makes it better for the customers,” he said.
Mt. Hood Railroad had a remarkably successful Christmas season, Kaufman said, and is still prospering on the freight side of their business.
“Still, despite people calling for our demise, we plan to have a great season,” he said.
Mt. Hood Railroad went into receivership — a type of bankruptcy protection that happens when a company can’t meet its financial obligations — in September after its parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, defaulted on a $5 million loan from Big Shoulders Capital LLC. Under the receivership, all of Mt. Hood Railroad’s assets and business operations were turned over to the court-appointed receiver: Novo Advisors, a financial advisory firm based in Chicago, where Iowa Pacific is based.
Mt. Hood Railroad’s day-to-day operations have been unaffected by the receivership, according to Kaufman, and the railroad continues to operate “business as usual.”
Meanwhile, Mt. Hood Railroad currently owes Hood River County approximately $210,135 for failure to pay property taxes for the last three years (the figure includes the tax payments, as well as interest and fees associated with late payment). Hood River County was in the process of resolving that payment, potentially by seizing railroad property, when the railroad went into receivership. That process is on hold for the duration of the receivership.
The legal aspects of the receivership are being handled over in Chicago, with infrequent updates delivered to local county officials and others with a financial interest in the outcome. As of publication, “the receivership is still in place, but we expect there will be filings to dissolve the receivership,” said Hood River County Administrator Jeff Hecksel.
When asked about the status of the receivership, Kaufmann said that he considers Mt. Hood Railroad “a separate entity altogether” from Iowa Pacific Holdings, and that he is excited for the upcoming season.
“I anticipate the railroad will be around a long, long time,” Kaufmann said. “It is my opinion that the railroad has always played an important part of Hood River’s history and development.”
He added that, when people take the train, they spend money in the community and foster its economic growth.
“The more that we put into advertising, everybody benefits from that,” he said, “and we hope to be able to continue to do that and pay our debt to society.”