BERLIN – Plans for an excursion train in Worcester County continue to move ahead.
Officials from the various parties involved have been working together to finalize plans for an excursion railroad between Snow Hill and Berlin. According to Merry Mears, the county’s economic development director, the train could be up and running by the end of next year.
“Everybody is pushing this forward at maximum speed,” she said.
Since she and representatives from Berlin and Snow Hill visited the highly popular Great Smoky Mountain Railroad in Bryson City, N.C., in December, they’ve been at work analyzing the logistics associated with bringing a similar set-up to Worcester County.
“There’s been a lot of activity behind the scenes,” she said.
In particular, Mayor Gee Williams from Berlin and Mayor Charlie Dorman from Snow Hill have been working together to determine how best the train can benefit both of their towns.
“Mayor Williams and I are very confident it’s going to happen,” Dorman said.
He said that though progress seemed slow to those interested, the parties involved — the towns, the county, the railroad and even the state — were working together to make the project happen.
“We’re not one town against another,” Dorman said. “This will benefit all of Worcester County.”
The excursion train currently being discussed, Dorman said, would run between Berlin and Snow Hill. If a Polar Express train is secured during the winter, it would probably run from both towns, as the North Pole village would be set up somewhere between the two.
“We’re just trying to get all the pieces together,” he said.
Mears said officials from the Department of Housing and Community Development were interested in the project and would likely be involved in making it happen. She said the department was known for the low interest loans and grants it provided to certain projects.
Mears says all of the parties involved in bringing the train to Worcester County will meet at the end of this month to “talk about how to make this a reality.” She’s encouraged by the cooperative spirit the various entities have shown throughout the process so far.
“I’ve never seen this many people in the different backgrounds we have come together to make something happen,” she said.
Worcester County officials first discussed bringing an excursion train to the area in 2015. A study performed by Stone Consulting reported that such an operation could have a $17.6 million impact on the local economy. Capital costs associated with the project, including the expense of upgrading the track and the cost of building stations, range from $1.2 million to $3 million.