WILLIAMS, Ariz. — This Earth Day on April 22, the Iron Horse is back and healthier than ever thanks to strictly oil used for french fries and chicken wings.
While such a diet might be hazardous to the health of most, The Grand Canyon Railway (GCR) is using recycled waste vegetable oil as fuel on Locomotive No. 4960, a steam engine built in 1923. Beginning this May on the first Saturday of every month through September, all are welcome aboard for a memorable ride on the new-fangled steam engine for a 65-mile journey from Williams, Arizona to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
The GCR is one of a few passenger railroads in the U.S. to service a restored steam engine for long trips and the first in the U.S. to utilize waste vegetable oil to power it.
But the memorable experience of riding an 18th century invention in modern days almost didn’t happen. In 2008, the GCR put its stable of historic iron horses out to pasture due to environmental concerns about pollution while traveling to Grand Canyon National Park.
Inspired by the innovation of carmakers to run vehicles on waste vegetable oil, GCR General Manager Bob Baker and Chief Mechanical Officer Sam Lanter decided to apply the sustainable measure to a steam engine. Not only did it work, but it worked so well that the 90-year-old steam engine galloped along carbon-neutral on the Grand Canyon Railway and thus released fewer emissions than a diesel engine used today and became a green machine. The water used in the boilers are also earth-friendly; boilers contain reclaimed rain and snow melt collected during the winter and Northern Arizona’s rainy season for steam. The GCR is the first tourism railway in the US to receive ISO 14001 third-party certification of its environmental management system.
Xanterra owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway as well as restaurants and lodges in several National Parks. In addition to Locomotive No. 4960, GCR offers daily trips aboard its duel-efficient diesel trains at 9:30 a.m. starting at $75 for adults and $45 for children ages 15 and younger. Trip highlights include a Wild West shootout at the 1908 Williams Depot prior to the morning departure, entertainment and live action aboard the train.