Berlin Council Commits Funding To Excursion Train Study

BERLIN — Following a show of support from the Worcester County Commissioners last week, the town of Berlin is also getting behind the idea of bringing excursion trains to the shore.

The Town Council has pledged support to the project and agreed to fund some portion of the upcoming feasibility study.

It was announced last week that Strausburg Railroad is considering Worcester as an area to develop its next excursion train line. The proposed route would connect Berlin, Newark and Snow Hill and allow for day trips, special events and potentially themed train rides, featuring classics like Thomas the Tank and the Polar Express.

“I just think that it’s a very forgotten era of the country and it’s very environmentally friendly,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall, “but a lot of the railroad tracks are in very poor shape. I miss the train coming to Berlin because of the track damage but you have my full support.”

Worcester Economic Development Director Bill Badger is spearheading the project and reminded the council that it’s all in the early stages at this point. There are a number of factors to examine before a formal agreement is reached including looking at engineering, rail, passenger versus freight, train station options, parking concerns and the like.

At this point, the county is working to move forward with a preliminary feasibility study. Badger told the council he would like to bring the municipalities who would be connected by the rail line into the process.

“I’ve asked Berlin and Snow Hill to also be a contributor to that study. That study is not official yet because it is a very specialized kind of study,” he said. “I think that it’s going to be in the realm of $12,000 to $20,000 so I would say today, if I were to ask you for a partnership, I would say in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.”

The feasibility study in the first phase would concentrate on whether there’s significant interest in Worcester to justify an excursion rail line as well as whether there would be any opposition from residents.

“It’s important for Strausburg to feel like they would be welcome and that there wouldn’t be a lot of opposition to running an excursion train through our small towns,” said Badger.

Neither Badger nor the council expect opposition with Mayor Gee Williams anticipating interest to run high. Having personally ridden on a Strausburg train before, Williams said he was impressed with the high quality and believes the railroad would be popular.

Berlin Community and Economic Development Director Michael Day added that the area would likely see benefits not just from the train but from the ripple effect an excursion line would have in bringing in other attractions wherever it stopped. The town should also be able to count on Strausburg to endorse the rail and bring in visitors from new areas.

“They would be a major promoter of us down here,” Day said. “They have thousands and thousands of people coming there and it would just be natural to latch onto that.”

Badger agreed, adding that he is confident about the potential for working with Strausburg. Representatives from the company have already toured Berlin, staying at the Atlantic Hotel and giving Badger a positive report.

The council was unanimous in voting to support the county’s pursuit of an excursion train partnership with Strausburg. The town will submit an official letter of support and has agreed to help fund the first phase of the feasibility study with the $3,000 to $5,000 Badger requested, dependent on the study’s final cost. The county plans to send out a request for special consultants within the next 30 days, at which point the actual price tag of the first phase of the study should be established.