Carson Park’s Mini Railroad Plans Track Extension

Caitlin Boyle, photos by Andrea Paulseth

David Peterson of the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association poses with new track being added in Carson Park.
David Peterson of the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association poses with new track being added in Carson Park.

The Chippewa Valley Railroad has been a highlight in Carson Park since 1977. The one-quarter size railroad takes passengers through the woods and along Half Moon Lake on a half-mile loop. Thousands of people ride the railroad every summer, and now the Chippewa Valley Railroad Association hopes to bring in even more people with the West Branch Line Project, which is currently under construction.

The goal, the group says, is to create approximately 650 feet – that’s one-eighth of a mile – of double track in the wooded area.

The new line will offer new views of the woods and create a more realistic train operation. It will  also allow three trains to operate at a time and increase volunteer participation and the number of people who ride the train.

As the number of people who ride the train during the summer has grown, so has the Chippewa Valley Railroad. When the track opened in 1978, one steam locomotive, four coaches, and a depot were in operation on a one-eighth mile track. Over the past 41 years, the railroad has grown to include two steam locomotives, one vintage diesel locomotive, 10 coaches, a roundhouse, turntable, and waiting platforms. The track is now a half-mile loop with passing tracks at the platform. 

The association also relocated the last railroad signal tower in Wisconsin, which was built in 1884. The tower is currently under restoration, and the association has received the city’s approval to make it a historic landmark in Eau Claire. The hope is that enhancing the train experience with the West Branch Line project will make it more exciting for passengers and volunteers.  

The Chippewa Valley Railroad Association reorganized in 2017 as a nonprofit to preserve the railroad. Because of that, the railroad is completely operated by volunteers. The association is relying on those volunteers to help bring the West Branch Line to life. The association has scheduled track laying sessions and partnered with the Chippewa Correctional Facility to find more volunteers to lay track and make repairs.

The association’s annual revenue funds the line’s general operations, but the organization is exploring a number of funding options for the improvement project. They are purchasing new ties, spikes, rail joiner bars, and other materials through a grant via the Eau Claire Community Foundation. A new boiler for one of the locomotives will be purchased through a reserve fund, and the community has also pitched in to help. The grading for road bed work for this project was donated by American Express, a local excavating contractor.

Passengers have plenty of time to hop on the train this summer. The railroad runs 12 times during the season and attracts 5,000-6,000 people of all ages every year.

“Passengers range from those under two to those in their 90s,” the association says. “Ridership is split about 50/50 with adults and children under 12. We have discovered that many grandparents bring their grandchildren to ride the trains together.”

The association hopes those families continue the tradition of the Chippewa Valley Railroad.

The Chippewa Valley Railroad runs noon-5pm every Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Learn more at chippewavalleyrailroad.org.

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