For five months the famed Minnesota Zephyr train has sat on blocks and wrapped in orange fencing—essentially abandoned—on city property in the north end of downtown Stillwater.
Now the time has come: The locomotive will be removed from city property one way or another.
After selling the nearly 6-mile train corridor the Minnesota Zephyr operated on to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for $4.25 million, David Paradeau was stuck with 580 feet of train and no where to put them.
Paradeau has six dining cars being temporarily stored in Bayport, one locomotive on blocks at the Stillwater Depot, and another sitting on city property about a block south on it’s former track, between The Lofts and P.D. Pappy’s—and time has run out.
This week the city of Stillwater sent an abatement order to Paradeau saying he has to move the train off of public property, and if he doesn't, the city will.
The city had originally given Paradeau until Dec. 1 to move the train, but the abatement order gives him a few additional days, City Administrator Larry Hansen said. Hansen said it is his understanding that Paradeau will appeal the order at the Dec. 4 Stillwater City Council meeting.
Last month Paradeau told Stillwater Patch he was aware of the Dec. 1 deadline; and he could have a plan in place to move the train back to his property, but it was very costly.
“He’s had five months,” Hansen said. “I’ve been telling him for three months now that I don’t want to see a plan to move the trains on Dec. 1, I want it gone. I will not recommend that the City Council accept his appeal. He’s had plenty of time.”
If the train is not removed, Hansen said it will be considered abandoned property and will be removed with the cost special assessed to Paradeau.
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“It is a nightmare.”
Those are the four words that David Paradeau uses to best describe the complicated details of moving, storing and trying to sell 580 feet of dinner train cars.
Last summer, Paradeau started the huge operation of moving six dining cars and two locomotives from their home at the Stillwater Depot on north Main Street to make way for the Brown’s Creek Trail.
Crews brought in cranes, hoisted the cars on flatbed trailers and moved them down Main Street to Andersen Corp. in Bayport.
Halfway through the move, two potential buyers of the dinner train fell through, Paradeau said, and the move stalled with the train sitting on city property.
Moving the train off of city property isn’t a problem, Paradeau said last month. Moving the locomotive one block—back onto his property—would cost about $10,000.
“I have about four things possibly happening,” he said, “but it’s very expensive and I don’t want to move it twice.”
The thing is, Andersen Corp. wants Paradeau’s six dinner cars off of their property, too.
Andersen agreed to store the trains for a short period of time between moving them from Stillwater to the next stop for the dinner train, Laurie Bauer, a spokesperson for Andersen told the Pioneer Press.
"Unfortunately, things have not happened as quickly as planned," Bauer said. "We are working with Mr. Paradeau to remove the train from our property to ensure it doesn't impact our business."
Paradeau said he has been agonizing about what to do with the trains.
“It’s not about just moving a train,” he said. “It’s complicated.”
Those complications, Paradeau said, range from the logistics of moving 580 feet or train—and a lack of available space along active railroad lines to store them—to limited sales opportunities due to the current economic conditions and uncertain political climate.
“Unless you own your own railroad,” Paradeau said, “you aren’t going to be able to operate a dinner train.”
When Paradeau operated the Minnesota Zephyr he owned the railroad tracks. Today, he says, there are very limited opportunities to purchase a private railroad line in a location that is marketable to a large population.
“A dinner train can’t function without a base population,” Paradeau said of the struggle to sell the dinner trains. “I was concerned about that when I started this in Stillwater, but it worked. I was able to market it to millions of people in the metro.
Another issue is that main line railroads would never accept a dinner train on their rails, Paradeau said. It would disrupt their business and bring forth insurance issues.
Security is another issue.
“You can’t put a train like the Zephyr in an unsecure area,” Paradeau said. “If left alone, the trains would be vandalized and stripped for copper and other valuable metals.”
Without an impending sale, Paradeau said he can’t commit to a timeframe for how long he’ll store the trains at one spot.
“I’ve been trying to sell these trains for three years,” he said. “Storage space is expensive.”