Attorney will give ethical opinion on V&T commissioner's business plan

The attorney for the Virginia & Truckee Railway commission will issue an opinion on whether it's ethical for a commissioner to operate a private luxury rail car business while acting on the state board entrusted with reconstructing the tourist line.

The $35 million reconstruction of the V&T Railway between Virginia City and Carson City is funded by both private and public monies. Once it's completed, Commissioner John Tyson said, he would like to operate a private luxury coach behind the V&T steam engine. Officials say the railway should be open for business by 2009.

Michael Rowe, general counsel for the commission, said the issue needs to be resolved. Tyson requested an opinion from the attorney about a week ago.

"He (Tyson) gave me the background facts so that I will be able to write the opinion, but I have not issued it yet and I will have no comment until I do," Rowe said Monday.

When a conflict of interest arises, the affected commissioner should first seek the advice of the general counsel, according to the commission's conflict-of-interest policy, passed Nov. 7. The commission must conform to the advice.

If the commissioner were to disagree with counsel's opinion, the commissioner could then seek an opinion from the State Commission on Ethics.

Tyson, KOLO Channel 8's rural reporter and host and producer of "John Tyson's Journal," is also a Federal Railroad Administration-certified locomotive engineer for the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely. He was appointed to the state board in June.

Commission Chairman Bob Hadfield did not address the potential conflict of interest at the last meeting on Dec. 5. He had intended to discuss it with the board, but he said the issue "went by the wayside" because of a heated debate on whether to contract with a consultant to hire an outside railway operator.

The board decided to conduct a search across the country for a railway operator, despite some criticism that the operation should stay in local hands, where it's been for the 30 years that the project has been in the works.

Tyson said Monday that he believes he can operate his private rail car business on the V&T, "as long as I don't vote on any issue that would allow me to profit from the railroad car."

Tyson said he will do whatever the commission, or its attorney, determines that he can do. He has said that one option would be to contract with the operator chosen to run the train.

In past commission meetings, Tyson has said he is in favor of selecting a general manager from the area to operate the rail, rather than contracting it out to a professional tourist-track operator. But when the issue came to a vote at the last meeting, Tyson voted to conduct the nationwide search for a qualified operator. This search does not preclude any local groups from getting together and submitting a proposal.

"My priority is the commission, not the rail car," Tyson said. "I want this railroad built and that's my priority. If I can't run my rail car, then so be it. I'll get the railroad built and then I'll worry about my retirement."

Tyson said he has planned for the coach to generate his retirement income. The rail car was part of the 1939 Royal Canadian Train, which carried King George VI, and was featured in the 1939 World's Fair, he said. With renovations it's worth $100,000.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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