More Costly Berlin-Snow Hill Excursion Train Route Favored

More Costly Berlin-Snow Hill Excursion Train Route Favored

BERLIN – Track repairs and the construction of a depot in the north end of the county mean bringing the much discussed excursion railroad to Worcester County could cost a minimum of $1.5 million.

The consulting firm hired to investigate the possibility of an excursion railroad in Worcester County reported to the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday the project would cost a minimum of $1.5 million. Though the consultant is still working on a complete financial analysis. Bill Badger, Worcester County’s director of economic development, says the numbers look good. He says a major rail events company has already expressed interest in the project.

“People are watching what we’re doing,” he said. “The ideal scenario is the railroad ownership and the owner of the special events company would see a compelling business opportunity and partner to invest.”

On Tuesday, Randy Gustafson of Stone Consulting, the company hired to conduct an excursion railroad feasibility study, outlined potential routes and costs. Gustafson started by telling the commissioners that an excursion train going north from Berlin would be easier to set up because the track was in better condition there than it was in the south.

“That’s the part of the railroad that has the best track,” he said.

Because a special event train that would operate during the fourth quarter of the year was deemed the best train option for Worcester County to pursue, the scenery outside the train windows wouldn’t necessarily matter, Gustafson said.

According to Gustafson, federal track standards for passenger train service would require much of the freight line through Worcester County to be improved. He said 40 percent of the track would need to be replaced so that the passenger train could travel at 25 mph.

Repairing the track for an excursion route north of Berlin would cost $586,083. Repairing the track for a Snow Hill to Newark route, however, would cost $1.3 million.

Gustafson said that pairing track rehabilitation costs with the costs associated with building passing sidings, a depot and a shop brought the total cost for an eight-mile route north of Berlin to just under $1.5 million.

Although there is already a depot on the eight-mile Snow Hill to Newark route, track repair, passing sidings and the cost of a shop bring the project to $1.7 million.

Though the excursion railroad would only need a four- to eight-mile stretch of track, Gustafson reported that a Berlin to Snow Hill route — at 14.9 miles — was possible but would cost more than $3 million.

In spite of the higher costs, commissioners spoke in favor of a train route in the southern end of the county.

“I don’t see much attraction to north of Berlin,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.

Gustafson stressed that the view wasn’t important if the trains were going to be carrying children and adults on themed rides to pumpkin patches or Santa’s workshop.

“What you see out the train windows is irrelevant,” Gustafson said. “The real core of this is a special event site.”

Commissioner Bud Church said he agreed with Elder.

“We’re looking for an attraction to expand into the county,” he said. “We’re looking at bringing tourists into Newark and Snow Hill. I’d hope you’d concentrate on the south end of the county.”

Gustafson said either route was plausible but that a route in the south end of the county would mean more capital costs.

“It’s a matter of can we locate the money to do the rehab,” he said.

Badger stressed that Gustafson was still studying the costs and impacts of various scenarios. He’s also working with the Maryland and Delaware Railroad, the company that owns the track, to develop a business plan.

Gustafson will return to the commissioners this summer with a final report. Badger said that by hiring the consulting firm to study the potential of an excursion railroad, the county was well on its way to facilitating a partnership between a potential operator and the Maryland and Delaware Railroad.

“That’s what we see as our role,” he said. “Trying to make marriages between those in the private sector.”