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Ventura Transportation Commission Sues Fillmore & Western Railway

The Ventura County Transportation Commission is suing Fillmore & Western Railway for continuing to use Santa Paula Branch Line track after the VCTC says their agreement was terminated.

The Ventura County Transportation Commission met in closed session on Friday to discuss the terms of ongoing litigation against the Fillmore & Western Railway, a tourist attraction that offers train rides and murder mystery dinners in train cars from the 1930s and 40s.

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Fillmore & Western RailwayThe VCTC filed a lawsuit against F&W last week, but disagreements between the Railway and the VCTC, which owns the Santa Paula Branch Line on which F&W operates, date back to April 2013.

In addition to the most recent lawsuit, the Railway has been suing the VCTC for about year, said F&W CEO David Wilkinson.

In April, a number of issues arose regarding maintenance, an overpayment of funds to F&W and the VCTC budget, said Steve De George, VCTC director of planning.

The VCTC determined that F&W was not properly maintaining signals or pavement at railway crossings, part of their 20-year agreement to lease the Santa Paula Branch line, De George said.

F&W officials disagree with the fact that their maintenance was not up to par.

“As far as maintenance goes, they haven’t proven that,” Wilkinson said.

The Railway was given six months notice of the termination of the agreement, which officially ended in November, though the VCTC allowed them to operate through the end of the holiday season until Jan. 1.

Now, more than two months later, F&W continues to operate on the the Santa Paula Line, even though the agreement is no longer in effect, De George said.

Wilkinson claims that there is still a valid contract between the Railway at VCTC, because no judge has ruled otherwise.

“(The judge) didn’t make any ruling on the validity of the contract one way or the other,” he said.

The lawsuit was in court most recently on Jan. 7.

F&W also refused to reimburse the VCTC for an alleged overpayment of state funds.

When the VCTC realized that they had paid F&W too much, they asked to work out a repayment schedule, but F&W refused, De George said, claiming that they had a right to keep the money.

“We don’t believe there way an overpayment in the first place,” Wilkinson said.

The VCTC also recently determined that it was no longer profitable to operate the Santa Paula Line, with F&W, a private entity, as the main beneficiary.

“The whole Santa Paula Branch line, costs VCTC about $700,000 a year to operate,” De George said. “It only generates a little over $300,000 a year.”

The Santa Paula Branch Line Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. on Monday and could determine the fate of F&W.

Wilkinson plans to attend the meeting, he said.

On the agenda for the meeting is discussion of the SPBL’s 2014-2015 draft budget.

“The SPBL Draft Budget assumes that a portion of the rail line will be taken out of service from Haun Creek eastward to Piru until such a time that a new rail operator is found and willing to fully fund operations and maintenance,” according to committee documents drafted by De George.

“(They are) talking about taking out of service the portion of the line between Santa Paula and Fillmore,” Wilkinson said.

He said that F&W is simply going to wait and see what happens.

To learn more about Fillmore & Western Railway, click here.

Visit the Ventura County Transportation Commission website for meeting agendas and further information.

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Ventura Transportation Commission Sues Fillmore & Western Railway

Article: Ventura Transportation Commission Sues Fillmore & Western Railway
Source: Santa Clarita News
Author: Allison Pari