Minnesota Zephyr

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The Minnesota Zephyr was a heritage railroad operating out of Stillwater, Minnesota. It operated as a dinner train and served a five-course, white linen dinner on a six-mile route, traveling between four and seven miles per hour.[1] Power was provided by two EMD FP7 locomotives, with one on each end of the train.[2] The rolling stock consisted of five restored dining cars. The train traveled along the St. Croix River bluffs, then turned westward and followed a stream. The trip lasted about three and a half hours.[3]

On September 18, 2008, owner David Paradeau stated that the train would cease operation at the end of the year, becoming a stationary restaurant serving dinner along with the adjacent Stillwater Grill. Paradeau cited the desire to retire, as well as a downturn in business and a $1.6 million loss within the last two years. Paradeau had hoped to sell the railroad right of way to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to be converted to a rail trail that would connect Stillwater to the Gateway State Trail system. Operating for some 23 years, the train had served close to a million dining patrons by the time of closure.[1]

Tracks connecting the Zephyr line to the Union Pacific to the south through downtown Stillwater were removed in summer 2005 after the city of Stillwater forced abandonment of the tracks. No rail service had been provided on the line since 1995 when the last steam engine visited Stillwater.

The line was the first railroad built into Stillwater. Work stopped late in December 1870 when the ground became too hard to finish the work. The last mile of track was finally laid into Stillwater in spring, 1871 after the ground thawed. Two more rail lines were built into Stillwater from the south end before the 1890s. The last Burlington Northern freight train to leave Stillwater on the line was in 1982. Burlington Northern had submitted a bid to deliver coal via the line to the King power plant in 1985 but the bid was won by Union Pacific.

On September 10, 2010 the Minnesota DNR expressed renewed interest in and laid out plans for the Minnesota Zephyr [4]

In February 2012, sale of the right-of-way was finalized to the Minnesota DNR for 4.37 million dollars. The sale to the DNR did not include the dinner train (engines and cars) itself or the Zephyr building. Rails and ties were removed to prepare the right of way to be made into a walking and biking trail. Minnesota DNR currently has paved the first two miles of the trail starting from downtown Stillwater and will pave the rest of the trail as funds become available. DNR also constructed a new pedestrian/cycling bridge to the west over Manning avenue (County Road 15). The right of way is also being considered as a route for a future light rail line into Stillwater.

In early 2013, Iowa Pacific Holdings purchased the train and to use on their Rio Grande Scenic Railroad subsidiary. In March 2013, the dining cars were shipped by rail to Colorado for overhaul. As of November 2014, it was announced that Iowa Pacific had also purchased the two FP locomotives and would be moving both of them in of December 2014.[5]

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