SNOW HILL — The first phase of a proposed excursion train in Worcester County is officially underway, While the move was expected, details on the feasibility study emerged this week.
Anticipation is also beginning to ramp up amongst officials who see an excursion train as a way to further distinguish Worcester on the shore.
It was confirmed earlier this month that the county had found a suitable consultant for a train feasibility study. Bill Badger, director of economic development, revealed additional details about the process Tuesday while also obtaining permission from the County Commission to move forward.
The Request for Proposal (RFP) process to find a consultant resulted in two strong bids, according to Badger.
“As you know, the Worcester County Economic Development (WCED) office issued a request for proposals (RFP) to the consultant community for an excursion train phase one feasibility study for Berlin to Snow Hill,” he wrote in a memo to the commission. “WCED received two proposals in response to our recent RFP, they include Stone Consulting, Inc. from Warren, Pa and Ozark Mountain Railcar, from Kirbyville, Mo. Although both were similar in their final pricing, Stone Consulting provided the requested detail and proven history necessary to contract with them.”
The final bid for Stone came in at $18,040 with another $2,899 sum set aside for extra possible expenses for a total of $20,939. Ozark’s bid came in at $18,750. The expectation from the county is to have the feasibility study completed within 45 to 60 days. It’s an important first step, Badger said, and falls in line with some predictions he made last week about having a solid plan in place to advance by the end of the calendar year.
“There has to be a business plan made where capital is put forward … So we’re embarking on that journey with this Phase I study which really challenges market assumptions and builds a case for an investment to create an excursion train opportunity here in Worcester County,” he said.
Though the RFP only yielded two qualified bids and a third that missed the deadline, Badger added that he was happy with the amount of interest the feasibility study generated. Excursion trains are a “niche” field that requires special consultants and Stone has a good reputation in the business, he told the commission. The $20,939 fee for Phase I will be evenly distributed among the towns of Berlin, Snow Hill, the Maryland Delaware Railroad and WCED. All will pay $5,000 toward the study with WCED rounding everything off by contributing $5,939.
Last week Badger met with the Berlin Mayor and Council and was given a reiteration that the town would be glad to pay its $5,000 share and that officials are excited to be part of the proposed excursion train route, which would carry passengers between Berlin and Snow Hill for day trips and special events.
While signing the consultation agreement this week, several commissioners agreed that the closer Worcester comes to realizing the train the more excitement seems to be building.
“I have had more calls of interest with this than anything we’ve done in a long time,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “People are really attracted by the uniqueness of it and the history of it. It’s very exciting.”
At a recent meeting of Eastern Shore government officials, Commission President Bud Church said that he had close to half a dozen mayors of nearby communities approach him to talk about the excursion train.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley reminded the group that the proposed project is similar, if much larger in scope, to an excursion system the county had in place more than two decades ago that was popular.
Badger plans on returning to the commission in September with the results of the feasibility study. There’s no guarantee yet that a train will come to the county, but he is optimistic about how the study will play out.