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Historic reconnection: Final railroad spike relinks Boulder City, Henderson

Updated April 23, 2018 - 10:58 am

For the first time in 30 years, Boulder City and Henderson are connected by the railroad, which is providing more opportunities for residents and tourists.

On Friday, April 13, the Interstate 11 bridge on the Nevada Southern Railway line opened near Railroad Pass. It allows the train to pass over I-11.

Local, state and federal officials gathered to mark its opening with a special ceremony that included Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller driving special “silver” spikes to reconnect the rails.

“This is an important day for Boulder City,” Sandoval said. “It’s restoring the history and legacy of what was built here and the Hoover Dam. It’s really important for students and tourists to know this history of the Nevada Southern Railway.”

Heller said that the day represented historical, cultural and recreational value and that trains are something people of all ages enjoy.

“You can take a 5-year-old and a 95-year-old, and they have the same feeling,” he said. “There are very few generational experiences. … That’s why we do this. It brings people together.”

Dam construction

In the 1930s, the railroad line was used to carry equipment and supplies to the Hoover Dam construction site. In 1985, that line was severed at Railroad Pass when Boulder Highway was widened, and that 4.5 miles of track remained isolated.

Trains carrying tourists started running in 2002 when the Nevada State Railroad Museum opened in Boulder City.

“It was just wonderful,” Randy Hees, director of the museum, said of Friday’s ceremony. “It gave us visibility. Anytime the governor comes and visits, or U.S. senators, driving a silver spike — quite successfully I might add — people notice. That’s very helpful for us.”

He said the connection will allow the museum’s train to travel a little farther down the track, with the ability to see the lights of Las Vegas, and bring new pieces to the facility on their own wheels, both aspects adding excitement and energy to the museum.

Hees said the museum expects to receive a large industrial locomotive in the next six months and could also receive two mainline locomotives for its collection.

Henderson Mayor Debra March agreed about the momentousness of the day.

“What started as a railroad whistle stop has reconnected us to history,” she said, noting the museum’s significance to boosting tourism and promoting family fun.

“We’re the little engine that could and keep moving down the tracks.”

Museum growth

Greg Corbin, former director of the Nevada State Railroad museums in Boulder City and Carson City, has been working on reconnecting Boulder City and Henderson since 1993.

“This, out of all accomplishments I got to be a part of, is the most fulfilling,” he said. “The reconnection of the Boulder City branch line is the single most important aspect for development of the museum in Boulder City.”

Plans are in the works for construction of a new museum and depot near the corner of Boulder City Parkway and Buchanan Boulevard, along with a linear park with activities for children and educational components. The greater visibility will help raise the millions needed to complete the project.

“Hopefully, with the governor out here, getting a firsthand look, the state will take greater interest in the project,” said Larry Bender of the Economic Vitality Commission, which is working with the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce to raise funds to get the new museum built.

“Boulder City is a community of contrasts and diverse interests,” said Jill Rowland-Lagan, CEO of the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce and part of the Boulder City Economic Vitality Commission. “The old and the new, the thrills and the stills, a nod to those who came before and those who will walk ahead. Today is about connections. We connect to the history, to the land, the amazement around us, to the wonder of what’s still to be.”

Corbin has been passionate about the reconnection project and said the most challenging part of it was getting all the government agencies involved to work together.

Greater recreation opportunities

Hees said he does not expect the ability to travel over the bridge into Henderson to affect the museum’s regularly scheduled train rides, and he hopes they will be able to offer special trains for events in either city.

He said there’s also the possibility of using the train as a shuttle service for events on Water Street in Henderson, offering parking in Boulder City, because there are rails just 100 yards from downtown.

Peter Barton, administrator of the Nevada Division of Museums and History, sees the re-established connectivity also providing more recreational opportunities.

“Imagine on a Saturday morning leaving Henderson on your bicycle, following the existing trails from Henderson to Boulder City through the railroad museum to downtown Boulder City,” he said. “Once there, you enjoy dining and shopping before returning to the museum, putting your bike on the train and riding home in the comfort of the train, learning about the history of the railroad and all it enabled.”

He also said there is a desire to incorporate the train ride to destinations in Henderson.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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