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Western Maryland Scenic Railway Acquires Former WM Georges Creek Branch

The loadout located on the short branch from Lonaconing Junction provided a regular supply of coal. On September 2, 1973, F7 53 and RS3 193 have run around their train at Lonaconing Junction and will head south to Westernport with their consist. Chasing the Georges Creek Branch was highly rewarding, with low train speeds and roads paralleling the track, often on both sides, for the entire distance. Cast iron Western Maryland location signs added lineside “props.” —Tom Nemeth

Western Maryland Scenic Railway Acquires Former WM Georges Creek Branch

March 2024by Steven Raith

Western Maryland Scenic announced it has signed a 36-month lease with Gorges Creek Railroad owner Eighteen Thirty Group, LLC and will operate the 12.8-mile line as the Georges Creek Division of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. WMSR intends to pursue various revenue streams, including passenger and potential freight opportunities. Over the last three years, the WMSR has doubled the number of visitors served on its current excursion line between Cumberland and Frostburg, and recently ended 2023 with almost 75,000 visitors. The Georges Creek Division will structure itself as a separate business managed by WMSR.

WMSR Executive Director Wesley Heinz stated “This is the realization of over two years of discussions with Eighteen Thirty Group to secure the potential of the railroad line along Georges Creek.” “The scenic railroad will have an option to purchase the line outright or continue to lease for a number of years.” Officials hope portions of the line could be operational by Christmas 2024, with passenger excursions from Barton to Westernport.

The officials say the Georges Creek line does need some maintenance. The main sector in need of repairs is a 400-foot stretch at Moscow that was washed out during flooding in 1996. Railroad officials are optimistic that will be fixed. “The track at Moscow didn’t all fall apart,” said Heinz. “It’s all there. The hope is to repair it and reunite the whole stretch.”

“As for the whole line, you’re probably talking about $4 or $5 million in maintenance,” said State Sen. Mike McKay, chairman of the scenic railroad board. “But, that doesn’t mean we can’t do things in spurts. It doesn’t mean you don’t work the line available now. The line will not be just about tourism. It is important to keep it in service for the former Luke paper mill site, ensuring that any new business that may locate there will have rail freight service. Having a short track being part of the discussion for future economic development of the mill is paramount,” said McKay. “So as a leader of the delegation, one of the priorities was to secure the rail. If the track is gone, no freight service for the mill or for a short track for coal. This demonstrates the WMSR commitment to the community for economic development, not for just tourism but for the area as a whole.” Heinz noted “We’ve been approached about doing freight for some time, We did some in 2021. When we get approached, we are limited with space particularly at our railyard in Ridgeley, W.Va. Georges Creek will give us some additional access. CSX has been courteous enough to identify freight opportunities for WMSR and would help the scenic railroad move railcars to the Georges Creek location.”

WMSR envisions developing rapport with community leadership that can spur small-business growth and economic development while bringing family-friendly, tourist experiences through the operation. The Georges Creek Division could add 8 to 10 new jobs with the railroad once the line is fully operational. The WMSR itself has gone from about 10 employees in 2021, when Heinz was hired, to about 30 today…

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This article was posted on: February 15, 2024