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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:37 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:14 am
Posts: 177
I'm glad I took my kids on this last march. Even though we rode behind the diesel, I really enjoyed the ride. Nice, clean cars. The station in Taveras was nice. The park across from the station was incredible. The wife loved shopping in mt. Dora. I was hoping to go back with my boat for the boat show and ride behind the steamer. Oh well. Hopefully somebody else can take over. I think they have a gold mine there if done right.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 12:02 am 

Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2016 9:35 pm
Posts: 70
Well tomorrow is the last day and in today's "paper" we have this.....


http://www.orlandosentinel.com/os-lk-lauren-ritchie-orange-blossom-cannonball-20170123-column.html


Folks just cant stay away from the money pit.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 12:48 am 

Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 11:43 am
Posts: 432
Location: Floyd, AR
They spend a lot of time insisting they need a 'legitimate' operate with 'certified' equipment, are they suggesting that 'Reader' was not legitimate, or that they have been getting a lot of offers from some shady outfits?

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Any information or opinions I express are my own, and are not the views of the CBRHS or anyone else, unless explicitly stated otherwise.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 2:26 am 

Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2016 9:35 pm
Posts: 70
Pegasuspinto wrote:
They spend a lot of time insisting they need a 'legitimate' operate with 'certified' equipment, are they suggesting that 'Reader' was not legitimate, or that they have been getting a lot of offers from some shady outfits?


I think it is safe to say the relationship between Florida Central and Reader / Grigsby has been "strained" for quite some time. Numerous meetings between the two seemed to have produced little if any visible effect on the safety culture or the level of care taken within the operation.

The equipment has pushed the limits of unacceptable for the past few years with its missing and broken windows, doors and boards falling off, and air brake troubles. You can only do so much with 15-20 year-old movie props cobbled on to 100+ year-old flat cars before they really start to fail.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 2:24 pm 

Joined: Fri Dec 03, 2004 9:42 pm
Posts: 2435
EWrice wrote:
I think they have a gold mine there if done right.


At first glance, you'd think so. Based on what I've read here, there have been several operators who also thought so, and none of them have been successful, or else they'd still be there.

Here's the problem... There is too much competition for the tourist dollar these days. 50 years ago, when you visited Florida, there were roadside attractions everywhere. Alligator farms, little zoos, mermaids, pirate themes and who knows what else. Now they're almost all gone. Even some of the big ones. The fact that Cypress Gardens would ever go out of business would have been laughable back then. "People come from around the world to see the waterski show and the gardens, are you nuts?!?"

So what happened? Well, Disney and Universal have so much to do that you never need to leave. They do their best to keep you "in the bubble". They also have tons of advertising money.

Try this on your next visit. Hey kids, where do you want to go today? Disneyworld, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Legoland, Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or do you want to go on a train ride through some suburbs and orange groves. What? No, there aren't any wizards or talking owls on board.

So you potential audience is pretty much limited to locals and hard core train fans for the most part. That makes the gold mine have a lot less paydirt.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:34 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 01, 2004 2:46 pm
Posts: 1906
Location: Pac NW, via North Florida
Bob's right, but he forgot to add the distances involved. I think the depots are over an hour's drive (even on a good day) from the tourist ground zero which is the Kissimmee area.
There isn't much in that area to keep someone's interest. All the parks are Southeast of there, and Kennedy Space Center (the only place in Florida that can take on the wizards and talking mice and hold they're own) is much further, being on the coast.
Had this run, say, in the Williamsburg area or someplace nearby, then it'd have had a far better chance. There are actually other tourist spots in the region that do okay outside of the usual parks. But this was too far off the beaten path for the average person to ride.

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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:37 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:07 am
Posts: 664
Location: Philadelphia Pa
They averaged about 24-26,000 people annually....Which for a volunteer organization, running weekends only, wouldn't be bad...But they operated with a paid staff and at least 4 days a week....

They do really well in December, with almost 50% of their ridership coming in. Most railroads have a hearty fall season before Christmas to put them ahead and the over the top with holidays. Florida doesn't have a fall season, so that doesn't help the bottom line either.

To be honest, the fact that operations lasted this long is somewhat remarkable as if you follow the history of Tourist Railroads in Florida, they don't have a good track record of longevity.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 3:12 pm 

Joined: Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:28 pm
Posts: 174
Location: Northern WV
The exception being the Seminole Gulf Railway out of Ft. Myers. The "Murder Mystery Train" has run for quite a few years. They also used to mix in an excursion every now and again, but I believe all they run now are dinner trains.

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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 3:55 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5262
Location: southeastern USA
There's a local market there for dinner trains, public interest trains, and special event / seasonal trains there. The tourist market will draw some, but it won't be the bread and butter. If your organization is getting by on the old school, ordinary train ride alone, you are fortunate - most of us have had to widen our product offerings and create strategic partnerships to stay alive.

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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 4:24 pm 

Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2016 10:09 pm
Posts: 14
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
Oh what a shame, I rode once when they first started. Really cool locomotive, and the only standard gauge wood burner I've ever seen under steam.

The ride itself was quite boring, a few glimpses of the lake, but nothing close to "scenic."

I was the fireman on the Sespe, an 1898 0-4-0 Porter. It was standard gauge, but unfortunately, the FRA wanted the boiler tested to 200psi! That was the end of that


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 4:58 pm 

Joined: Sat Feb 06, 2010 9:29 am
Posts: 214
There are a number of issues involved here...A few are:
1: T,E&G operated on a month to month contract, making it very difficult to justify putting the level of money into it that is needed to make it a "success" as many define that...
2: FCEN required a high level of insurance ($10 million liability) and a high lease rate on the track...
3: Pricing of the ride put many people off...
4: The ride is not very "scenic"...
5: The level of advertising has never been very good...
6: The equipment chosen for the job has never been exactly right for it....

The various operations had various levels of success:
The highest passenger level was almost 100K people....
The average, before 2008 was around 50K per year...
The highest year included a Thomas event, which drew 30K over two weekends...
There have been about 10 owners in 17 years (99-2017)
They tried the 1-2 hour excursion, an all day (8 hour) excursion, a dinner train, game trains, Christmas, etc, etc...
In all those owners, only T,E&G was kicked out by FCEN...The rest either sold out to others or went under due to financial issues...
Yes, there were various issues with rule violations, etc.. from time to time thru all of those owners...Not one of those owners was any worse for such things than the average railroad...Some just got caught more than others...
The numbers of people to draw from has not been the problem, reaching those people and giving them reasonable entertainment for the price has...

To succeed there you must:
Have a good owner and good mangement with a good vision of what you want to achieve...
Have a good contract... if you don't own the track...minimum contract should be 1 year, preferably 3-5 years...
A good amount of money to invest... $1 million+, not $100K...
You must advertise heavily... and in the right places...
Be prepared to build up the business for several years and not start pulling profits for 2-3 years...etc,etc...


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 6:42 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2015 5:55 pm
Posts: 359
p51 wrote:
Bob's right, but he forgot to add the distances involved. I think the depots are over an hour's drive (even on a good day) from the tourist ground zero which is the Kissimmee area.
There isn't much in that area to keep someone's interest. All the parks are Southeast of there, and Kennedy Space Center (the only place in Florida that can take on the wizards and talking mice and hold they're own) is much further, being on the coast.
Had this run, say, in the Williamsburg area or someplace nearby, then it'd have had a far better chance. There are actually other tourist spots in the region that do okay outside of the usual parks. But this was too far off the beaten path for the average person to ride.

Actually, for a geek like me the best stuff was nearby. My girlfriend was from Orlando (we met as grad students in Denver) and the first time I visited her she wanted to take me to Disney, Universal, Sea World etc., but I wasn't interested, what I wanted to see was the space center but especially the manatees, who winter inland not very far from Taveres. There are a series of state parks just north of Tavares where you can go out in float boats and actually see the manatees surface near you, very cool. Plus hiking trails, other wildlife etc., neat even in the summer. I ended up living in Orlando for seven years, and the only time I saw any of the theme parks was as a truck driver in the summers. But that is me, I'm not sure how you could tap into that, maybe a Wild Kingdom theme, conservation, etc? For young kids it could appeal, and for adults.

Here's a couple, but more can be found on the Florida State Parks website (https://www.floridastateparks.org/):

https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Manatee-Springs
https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2017 6:31 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 20, 2016 1:15 pm
Posts: 57
I think many of the people talking in this forum have never been to Mt. Dora or Tavares. I visited twice, once during the first year of the Cannonball, and again the 2nd to last weekend. LOTS of people in both Mt. Dora and Tavares just enjoying the weather, wandering the shops and restaurants etc. As I was taking photos people were asking me about the train... people who didn't even know it was there.

I'm not sure how many people were like me, and visiting for the "last trip" but the first train I wanted to ride (may have been the second train of the day) was sold out.

If the train was losing money, I think they would have closed several years ago... It seemed to have a good ridership.


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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2017 7:09 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
Posts: 5262
Location: southeastern USA
I haven't had anything to do with some of the operators, but a common thread seems to be undercapitalization among them all. As I said, there's a market there - but that's not going to fill the train unless you let them know they can ride. If you're so marginal that all you can do is keep the train duct-taped together, there's no money for marketing. There was some static between a former operator and the city of Tavares, which may have precluded the formation of a strategic partnership for event production and marketing. An opportunity was also there when another online town - one of the "Winter" towns, Park Haven, Garden whichever - was rebuilding their main street. Neil Bagaus has been around there from day one, I have a lot of hope he can line up some good partners and get the line in operation again.

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 Post subject: Re: Florida's Mt. Dora Express/Orange Cannonball Shutting Do
PostPosted: Wed Feb 01, 2017 8:02 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:07 am
Posts: 664
Location: Philadelphia Pa
Crescent-Zephyr wrote:
I think many of the people talking in this forum have never been to Mt. Dora or Tavares. I visited twice, once during the first year of the Cannonball, and again the 2nd to last weekend. LOTS of people in both Mt. Dora and Tavares just enjoying the weather, wandering the shops and restaurants etc. As I was taking photos people were asking me about the train... people who didn't even know it was there.

I'm not sure how many people were like me, and visiting for the "last trip" but the first train I wanted to ride (may have been the second train of the day) was sold out.

If the train was losing money, I think they would have closed several years ago... It seemed to have a good ridership.


I rode over the course of several years, under several operators. Just because a town is busy, doesn't mean the train is going to be. New Hope PA is a great example of that. There is way more to do in town than ride the train. An operation in a already busy town is fighting for survival among the fittest, so it has to be a value for a family, if the operation is not priced right and offering something more than 40 minute trip for a higher price, you need to have entertainment. Most successful operations are not in highly busy towns. The railroad is the draw in and of itself, not the location.

Sorry to disappoint, but the numbers for the Florida Operation speak for themselves and prove there has been limited success.

Florida Central Railroad

1995 - 157 passengers (only ran in December)
1996 - 13,481 passengers
1997 - 15,721 passengers
1998 - 1,057 passengers (only ran in December)
1999 - 26,859 passengers (only ran January - July)
"OUT OF PASSENGER BUSINESS"

Mount Dora, Tavares and Eustis Railroad:

1999 - 8,829 passengers (only ran from September - December)
2000 - 40,861 passengers (season had a very evenly spread ridership over 12 months)
2001 - 25,408 passegers (only ran from January - September)
"OUT OF BUSINESS"

Orlando & Mount Dora Railway

2001 - 4,170 passengers (only ran in December)
2002 - 70,839 passengers (40,658 carried in March, assuming Thomas event?)
2003 - 1,465 passengers (only ran in January)
"OUT OF BUSINESS"

Mount Dora & Lake Eustis Railway

2003 - 3,155 passengers (only ran from October - December)
2004 - 35,946 passengers
2005 - 5,209 passengers (only ran from January - April)
"OUT OF BUSINESS"

Inland Lakes Railway

2005 - 3,466 passengers (only ran from October - December)
2006 - 41,034 passengers
2007 - 51,192 passengers
2008 - 34,693 passengers
2009 - 12,379 passengers (only ran from January - July)
"OUT OF BUSINESS"

2010 there was no operation that I know of.....

Tavares, Eustis & Gulf Railroad

2011 - 6,308 passengers (only ran October - December)
2012 - 21,355 passengers
2013 - 21,945 passengers
2014 - 26,187 passengers
2015 - 24,929 passengers
2016 - 16,722 passengers (excludes December = not reported yet)

Don't know that anyone can say it was a highly successful operation at any one given time. They never went higher than 71,000, and only that high one year, and a few good years of over 40,000 but most times 25-30,000 or less annually. Seems as though the last operator was the longest and most consistent in terms of "numbers".


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