Smoke & Cinders (2020) – 2020, Certainly Not The Year We Planned
2020, Certainly Not The Year We Planned
To our members, annual pass holders, supporters and friends – It’s hard to write a newsletter that spans from the end of the fourth quarter of 2019 (by most
measurements a good year) through four quarters of 2020 that doesn’t make the Coronavirus Pandemic the central story line. Yet, even while dealing with the unprecedented situation, TVRM has continued to make progress on many fronts and there is a very positive story to tell.
2019 closed with the second-best visitation in TVRM’s history at 132,011, only 565 visitors behind the best year of 2018. Revenue from operations at $8,887,032 would be at record levels. Why wouldn’t we have expected 2020 to be even better? TVRM has since been navigating the difficult waters and preparing itself for the “new normal,” whatever that may be. As 2020 dawned, we scaled back our operating tempo to our usual Saturday only trains in January and turned to wintertime shop work while preparing to begin operating steam on the weekend of March 14th. But the storm clouds were already gathering. In early February, news stories were already circulating around the country but they seemed to be centered on other states still some distance from Chattanooga. After attending a Hamilton County managers briefing, TVRM President Tim Andrews met with TVRM employees to make sure that they were aware of the rapidly developing situation. Our employees were urged not to come to work if ill and that TVRM could expect that the operating situation would change rapidly. Two days later, Friday March 13, TVRM and most attractions in Chattanooga closed to the public. Early the following week all full time office staff were directed to work from home. In recognition that TVRM’s passenger revenue was cut to zero, all full time employees saw their hours and pay cut to 80% of normal. Only the freight business continued without reductions until VW abruptly ceased shipments on March 20th. Plans were made rapidly to match expenses with our available financial resources and anticipated remaining income. When TVRM closed its doors to protect our staff and visitors, it was thought that this shutdown would be for only a few weeks, maybe only to the end of March, but the fear was that it would be longer. Within those two weeks, it rapidly became obvious that the shutdown would be longer and the reopening date was postponed several times. The question remained, when this was over would anyone even want to ride a train? TVRM quickly took proactive measures at the end of March to furlough many of the full time staff along with virtually all of the part time and seasonal staff. Only those essential shop workers who were able to work on contract work or projects funded by generous donors, the freight crews at Tyner and the track department working on state funded track projects, continued to work. Scheduled events like Day Out With Thomas were rescheduled to later dates and the commencement of the Hiwassee and Georgia trains were postponed to Memorial Day. Certainly things would return to normal by then. But what if they didn’t?