The Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway has delayed their summer programing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The heritage railroad typically opens in early May. This year the tentative plan is to remain closed throughout the summer, open on Labor Day weekend and run through late October. However, this could change depending on how the pandemic shifts between now and September.
“Everything is fluid because the virus keeps evolving,” said Scott Hippert, the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which operates the railway.
The railway has already had to cancel one of its most popular events, and will see many more changes once it does open.
“One of our most popular events is Mother’s Day,” Hippert said. “This year we were unable to do that and we feel so bad about that, because there are so many moms that were looking forward to spending their Mothers Day on the train with us.”
When the train does open, its normal routes from Osceola to Marine on St. Croix, Minn. and from Osceola to Dresser will remain the same, but the number of trips as well as what’s offered on those trips will change. In a typical year the railway offers brunch trains as well as pizza trains, but no food will be served on the trips this year.
“We consulted health professionals and they said it’s best this year not to take a chance on offering food,” Hippert said.
The railway typically runs four trips per day throughout the season, but may have to drop that number to three in order for staff to have time to disinfect the cars between each trip.
“We’ll make sure if there are any germs there we’re taking care of them before anybody else gets back on the train,” Hippert said. “We’ll also be putting plexiglass dividers in the Osceola depot ticket counter to protect both the visitors and volunteers.”
The museum will also be limiting the number of people per trip. At full capacity in a normal year, the train can hold around 300 passengers at a time, but Hippert said the trains will run at 25 percent capacity this season, putting the maximum number of people per trip around 80.
“First and foremost we want our visitors, passengers and volunteers to remain healthy,” he said. “We’re taking every precaution we can to make certain that by the time the train starts operating, that we’re going to be able to do so in a healthy environment and protect people as best we possibly can.”
Hippert said they hope to make the best of the shortened season and bring as much business as they can to Osceola.
“We consider ourselves a partner with the Osceola business community,” he said. “We’re all in this together and we really do want to work together with the local community to bring the train and Osceola business back to life as best as we possibly can.”