ELGIN — The Friends of the Joseph Branch Board of Directors has watched the status of the COVID-19 virus pandemic closely and recently made the decision to not run the Eagle Cap Excursion Train this season.

When considering the average age of passengers and volunteers, the enclosed and close environment on the train and what it would entail to reduce the risk for all involved, the board members voted unanimously not to run. Instead, they will concentrate this year on making further improvements to the equipment, work with the Wallowa Union Rail Authority to upgrade the tracks, and lay the groundwork for the 2021 season.

"A majority of our passengers are of the population most vulnerable to the virus and it would be difficult to keep the social distance parameter during the trips, while carrying enough passengers to cover costs," said Ed Spaulding, board president and engineer. "As always, our top priority is the health and safety of passengers and volunteers and to ensure they have an enjoyable experience. We believe the best way to achieve that is to delay all activity until the virus is under control."

After announcing a busy season in March, the group canceled their May and June trips, then announced they were delaying the season until fall. The decision to suspend the season entirely was made with full awareness of and regrets for the negative impact it will have on Union and Wallowa County businesses.

"We look forward to serving our passengers again and will work hard to help rebuild the tourism industry in 2021," Spaulding concluded.

People with reservations are being contacted and refunded or given vouchers for use in 2021.

The Friends of the Joseph Branch is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit corporation that manages and operates the Eagle Cap Excursion Train and the Elgin Depot for the Wallowa Union Railroad, the two-county partnership that owns the historic Joseph Branch line and its assets.

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