Railroads have been some of the most important developments in the history of the State of Nevada. It was railroads that connected the many scattered growing cities and mining districts to create means of transportation even more efficient than highways in the early years of our history.
You are likely familiar with the Central Pacific, Virginia and Truckee and Carson and Colorado Railroads or even many of the smaller short line routes in central Nevada. Today, I want to tell a few things about the Nevada Northern Railroad in northeastern Nevada.
The Nevada Northern Railway (NN) was a railroad in eastern Nevada, built primarily to reach a major copper producing area in White Pine County. The railway, constructed in 1905-06, extended northward about 140 miles from Ely to a connection with the Western Pacific Railroad at Shafter and Southern Pacific Railroad at Cobre.
In a series of donations beginning in 1986, Kennecott Copper Company transferred the entire Ore Line, as well as the railroad’s yard and shop facilities in East Ely, to the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, a nonprofit organization which today operates the property as the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.
The museum operates a heritage railroad on this part of the former NN. Passenger excursion train service is offered between Ely, Ruth, and McGill using period equipment pulled by historic steam and diesel locomotives.
In April 2006, Nevada’s National Historic Landmarks Committee granted unanimous support to nominating the Nevada Northern’s East Ely shops complex as a National Historic Landmark. The nomination was approved by the National Park Service on Sept. 27, 2006.
The remainder of the Nevada Northern has largely been non operational since 1983. The rail line between Ely and Cobre was acquired by the city of Ely in 2006. Recent plans by Sierra Pacific Resources for the construction of the Ely Energy Center, a 2,500 megawatt coal-fired generating plant in the Ely vicinity are raising the possibility that the railroad may see yet another revival, this time carrying inbound loads of coal to White Pine County.
Passenger locomotive No.40, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1910 is still used for passenger service for tourist excursions. Locomotive No. 93 built by American Locomotive Company has an amazing history of “dodging the bullet” of being scrapped several times, will be running for the 2018 tourist season after a determined effort to keep her on the rails.
Members of my own family have made several trips to Ely to ride the several excursions offered by the Nevada Northern Railroad. This trip could easily be combined with a visit to the Great Basin National Park, also located in eastern Nevada.