At first glance, the feasibility study for a possible excursion train operation in Worcester County does not look promising as an initial step, but the effort deserves further consideration before its abandoned.
The question is how much money has to be spent during this evaluation period before a conclusion can be made on whether this sort of operation will be profitable in our seasonal area. The study released this week cost $20,000 and the county is being advised to embark on at least one more study and maybe two. These future studies will at least cost the same.
What’s clear from this early report is this will be a long-term project. Most likely it will be years before any sort of operation such as those found in neighboring Pennsylvania are up and running in Worcester County. There, the Strausburg Rail Road Company is a tourist destination, offering dining, amenities and a steam train through the Amish country. On special occasions, Thomas the Tank Engine visits and is popular among all ages.
Worcester County may never rival what Strausburg does, but there is certainly potential for the local operation to have success. The feasibility study documents the potential is there, but falls short of anything definitive to build a business model around. The study estimates a tourism trade from Berlin to Snow Hill and back would attract roughly 77,000 riders annually, based off the large tourism base and residents. The concept being the train would grab a small percentage of summer visitors but be a boon in the fourth quarter of the year when the weather changes, schools re-open and holiday special events can be marketed.
This is an exciting prospect and deserves its due diligence. The issue here is it will take a funding commitment, patience and more studies. Government works generally at slow pace so we should not expect anything concrete on this anytime soon. The question is whether the funding needed to carry out the infrastructure work on the existing rail line will be too prohibitive and who will pay for it. Time will tell, but in the meantime supporters, as well as opponents, will have to sit tight until all the details are known.