Railroad and ferry boats in our past and future

A couple of transportation modes that seem like ancient history - a railroad and ferry boats - will be resurrected in Northern Nevada thanks to the largess of federal funding.

There's something ironic about a $300 billion federal bill that's associated mostly with massive highway projects being a vehicle for the restoration of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and ferries at Lake Tahoe. But both projects show the kind of creativity we like to see.

The V&T won't mean much in terms of transportation, but it will create an economic engine for Carson and Virginia cities - a role similar to the one it had in history as it moved ore, timber and supplies for the Comstock.

Now, the lode will be tourists. The $10 million included in the federal transportation bill is a huge chunk of the $30 million required to build the project.

As for Lake Tahoe, $8 million is earmarked for two ferries described as high-speed, low-wake boats capable of carrying 200 people each from one end of the lake to the other in 45 minutes to an hour, about the same time it would take to drive (when the roads aren't snow-clogged).

Like the V&T, the ferry boats would harken to an earlier day on the lake, when passenger vessels like the SS Tahoe plied the blue waters. They'll be sightseeing excursions, of course, but they will also mean a practical alternative for travelers.

With all due respect to giant highway projects like I-580 and the Carson bypass, which we're also glad to see, transportation thinking must expand beyond cars and ribbons of asphalt. The days of cheap gasoline are probably gone forever.

That's why we don't get too exorcised over the use of tax dollars on projects like these. Nobody seems to mind billions of dollars being spent on highways, yet they sometimes bemoan a pittance on alternative forms of transportation. If half the dollars spent on highways and airports had been spent on Amtrak, we'd all be riding rails across the country.

We can't change the past, but we can look forward to a couple of 20-mile rides - one by boat, the other by train - that will help transport us back to Northern Nevada history.


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