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Fillmore’s tourist train in battle to avoid end of the line

Posted: July 11, 2014 6:31 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2014 6:31 p.m.
The Fillmore & Western Railway offers tourist excursions through the Santa Clara River Valley. The Fillmore & Western Railway offers tourist excursions through the Santa Clara River Valley.
The Fillmore & Western Railway offers tourist excursions through the Santa Clara River Valley.

A Ventura County Superior Court judge’s recent eviction of the Fillmore & Western Railway from the Santa Paula Branch line is not the end of the line for the railway’s tourism excursions or its movie location rental business — not just yet, anyway.

In her July 1 ruling in a lawsuit filed against Fillmore & Western by the Ventura County Transportation Commission — owner of the 32-mile stretch of tracks running from Ventura-Los Angeles county line, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Riley ordered Fillmore & Western to cease its operations on the Santa Paula Branch line.

But Fillmore & Western President Dave Wilkinson vowed Friday he’ll continue his legal fight against the commission, which filed an unlawful detainer lawsuit against the railway in March.

Fillmore & Western, in turn, sued the commission on grounds the agency improperly ended its 20-year lease on the Santa Paula Branch line.

“I’m getting tired of the fight, that’s true,” Wilkinson said Friday. “But am I done fighting? Not on your life.”

The legal battle continues July 16, when the court will hear a motion by Fillmore & Western’s attorney, Donna Standard, seeking to have Riley’s eviction order stayed until her appeal can been heard.

If the motion succeeds, a three-judge panel will hear the appeal in Ventura County Superior Court, Standard said.

Despite the eviction order, Wilkinson said he’ll keep operating Fillmore & Western’s tourist excursion trains at least until all his legal avenues have been exhausted. Fillmore & Western’s “Murder Mystery Dinner Train” will run on schedule at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Wilkinson said.

On his blog, Wilkinson says Fillmore & Western has attracted 1 million tourist to the region over the railway’s 20-year life so far. Fillmore & Western’s historic trains, housed at its rail yard near Fillmore City Hall, also have been used in many Hollywood film productions.

Although Riley’s eviction order applied to the railway’s tourist train excursions, Standard said Friday neither she nor the railway had yet been served with the order. Until the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department actually serves the paperwork, the tourist excursions can continue, she said,
In its lawsuit the commission, which bought the Santa Paula Branch line in 1995 and leased the tracks to the Fillmore & Western Railway, claimed Fillmore & Western repeatedly ignored its demands to stop operating its trains.

The commission said it has consistently lost money keeping the line operating and charged that Fillmore & Western did not properly maintain the line as stipulated in its contract with the agency.

Fillmore & Western claims the transportation commission’s mismanagement resulted in lost revenue.

In her ruling Riley sided with the commission, saying as the owner of the line, the agency had the right to end Fillmore & Western’s lease. She also granted the commission’s request to evict the railroad without a trail.

Standard claims Riley’s ruling contained “numerous errors” forming grounds for her appeal, which could take several months to be heard in court. If the appeal is denied, she said Fillmore & Western will take the case to a higher court.

“Dave is in this for the long haul,” Standard said. “He feels he’s really been wronged here, as do I.”




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