• R&N/C&S In The News

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania

Moderator: bwparker1

  by RR_Fan
Hey everyone,
I was browsing through tonight's newspaper and found this article, along with another, on the frontpage of the Times News newspaper.
Railroad Partnership Should Benefit Carbon County

By Karen Cimms

Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad President Andrew J. Muller, Jr. has bought part of C&S Railroad, Jim Thorpe, the company that manages the Carbon County-owned railroad.

"I'm excited," says C&S president and CEO James Zurn, who admits he was a bit apprehensive at first. After sitting down and discussing the future of C&S, Zurn's hesitation, although minor, disappeared.

"I'm very excited about what can happen here. The assets Reading Blue Mountain and Northern brings to C&S, and the ideas and the wherewithal to be able to do it."

Last year Muller spent $1 million to upgrade C&S tracks and bridges, including long-awaited repairs to the old train trestle that crosses the Lehigh River, and connects Jim Thorpe with White Haven.

Zurn's partner, Betsy Ahner, who served as chief financial officer for the railroad, sold her half of the company to Muller for an undisclosed amount in November.

Muller and Zurn, who retains the title of president and CEO, are equal partners. Although they have combined some services, such as billing and marketing, Zurn insists both railroads remain separate entities.

"C&S Railroad is still its own corporation, as is Reading Blue Mountain and Northern. They are still independent and they have their own corporate laws."

Zurn says the new partnership will be a boon to the county in two ways ] tourism and the freight industry, which is C&S Railroad's main concern.

"By hooking up with Andy, we've opened up his marketing department to Carbon County to be able to have his people market our industrial sites," says Zurn. Those sites include three Keystone Opportunity Zones, Packerton Yards, Lehighton; the Kovatch properties, Nesquehoning; and Tide Industrial Park, Hometown in Schuylkill County.

]The purchase will allow Muller a guaranteed connection between two divisions of Reading Blue Mountain and Northern, one of which runs from Reading to Schuylkill County, and the other which runs from White Haven to Scranton, and into Wyoming County.

Reading Blue Mountain and Northern, which owns 317 miles of rail lines, runs from Mehoopany, down to the Reading area, and west to Minersville and Mount Carmel.

"It's a large-scale operation," says Zurn.

In regards to tourism, Zurn says Reading Blue Mountain and Northern will be able to bring a lot of people into Jim Thorpe via train from different points of origin, such as Reading, Scranton and Pottsville.

"The nice part about that is they come here without the traffic. They have the opportunity to take in what Jim Thorpe and the surrounding area has to offer."

Zurn says with trainloads of people arriving in town, area chambers can run shuttle buses to other destinations around the county, such as the No. 9 Museum in Lansford or the Carbon County Environmental Education Center in Summit Hill.

By the same token, people from Jim Thorpe could travel to other areas, and take advantage of sightseeing or shopping outside the county.

These broader horizons have not been possible with the current provider of sightseeing tours, Rail Tours, Inc. and its owner, 85-year-old George Hart.

Hart has been told he can continue operating through the end of the year.

Carbon County Commissioner William J. O'Gurek said that if Reading Blue Mountain and Northern picks up the passenger service, Muller will bring a service to Carbon County tourism that a lot of people would enjoy.

"He has beautiful equipment," says O'Gurek. "He will offer something to tourism that is upscale. I know the cost of this is losing Mr. Hart. I know Andy is sensitive to that and he has addressed this with Mr. Hart. Where it goes from there, I don't know."

Zurn sees nothing but positives all the way around.

"There's big stuff we're working on," says Zurn. "I'm excited. (Muller) brings a lot to the table. It's a win for everyone, the tourist industry and industrial development of the county."

  by RR_Fan
Got this one too...
End of an era?

Concerns Heard Over Train Issue

By Karen Cimms

George Hart, 85, has been an institution at the train station in Jim Thorpe for more than 30 years. From mid-April through October's Fall Foliage Festival and again during the Olde Time Christmas celebrations, Hart has offered scenic excursions on vintage rail cars.

But it seems his ride is over at the end of the year.

Betsy Ahner, part owner of C&S Railroad, the company that manages the Carbon County-owned railroad, sold her half of the company to Andrew M. Muller, Jr. last November. Muller, who is president and owner of Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad, will take over passenger train operations after Dec. 31.

"We were in a position to start running a new passenger operation right away," says James Zurn, president and part owner of C&S, "but out of loyalty for George, we've decided to honor his wishes and allow him to continue to operate for 2004."

That decision came at the request of the Carbon County commissioners, who learned of the business transaction earlier this month at a county Railroad Commission meeting.

"We love George Hart," says Zurn. "Everyone does. I think he understands that the writing is on the wall. The advantage of going with another operator is that he can bring tourists in from other places. George cannot do that. He can only stay on C&S property."

Hart could not be reached for comment, but he did authorize John Eline, vice-president of Rail Tours, to speak on his behalf.

Referring to the amendment to the county's agreement with C&S, that extends its lease of property and provision of railroad freight service through 2038, Eline said Rail Tours was never given a copy of the new agreement or formally told about it.

"Unless George sees it, he does not feel we are in a position to comment," says Eline. "We don't know what is in that agreement."

Eline acknowledged that he and Hart met with Muller in February, but said he did not want to comment on that meeting either.

"We would like to see a copy of the agreement between the county and C&S and what is covered in there. We don't know how it is worded and how it spells out under what circumstances they can designate an operator for passenger service."

Eline referred to Hart as "a very private person," and said they were "sitting back and waiting for the dust to settle."

"I'd like to think it's not over," said Eline. "We've been told we're done at the end of the year, but nothing is final until its in black and white."

]Although he was restrained in his comments, Eline did admit he was very disturbed about what looks like the end of Rail Tours.

"I've been with Rail Tours for 39 years," said Eline. "I put a lot into this business and I have volunteered my time for the last nine years, since I became disabled. It is all that I've been doing and it's hard to believe it's over. I'm at retirement age. This is the end of my life as I know it. George has been in business for 42 years. It will be very hard for him, too."

While Hart has remained quiet thus far, there are others who have expressed their concern with the change in passenger trains.

One person is Kenneth Miller, president of the Lackawanna Chapter of The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, located in Mountainhome, Pa. Miller sent the commissioners a lengthy letter detailing his reasons why Rail Tours should be retained as the exclusive provider of passenger service.

Another concerned entity is the Jim Thorpe Fire Department. Officials have contacted the county commissioners, and have asked them to keep Rail Tours in their plans for the future.

For many years Fairview Hose Company No. 2 has hosted Christmas and Easter train rides with Hart that have proved to be major fund-raisers for the fire company, netting a substantial amount of money since 1984. The fire company, as well as Jim Thorpe ambulances, have come to depend on those donations.

Zurn says they have no intention of neglecting the fire company, ambulance or any other worthwhile organization, and says Reading Blue Mountain and Northern is open to assisting with fund-raisers.

"People think when George Hart is out of here, that will stop. That's not true."

With regards to some of those concerns, Commissioner William J. O'Gurek says people need to understand that when the railroad commission was established by the county, C&S Railroad was designated to be the shortline operation.

"At some point in time, part of that agreement was that C&S was asked by the county to maintain the tourist passenger service in town for the benefit of tourism," says O'Gurek. "The right to designate the company that would provide the tourist excursion trains lies with C&S Railroad. It's not a decision of the commissioners. It's a decision of C&S Railroad."

O'Gurek also points out that when Ahner sold her share of the company to Muller, the complexion of C&S changed.

"Obviously C&S might very well want to designate Reading Blue Mountain and Northern as the excursion train provider."

O'Gurek says Hart met with Muller and Zurn earlier this year, and all of this was discussed with them.

"There is another complicated issue involved here," points out O'Gurek. "Mr. Hart's railroad equipment sits on Carbon County land. He owned the tracks. He has an agreement with Carbon County that expires at the end of this year. We as commissioners and railroad commission members need to address that situation, which is totally different from the issue of whose going to provide passenger tour service."

Hart owned a little over a mile of the lines, located within the rail yard in Jim Thorpe, but he has since conveyed those lines to the Lackawanna Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., located in Mountainhome, Pa.

O'Gurek said the county had an agreement with Hart that if he no longer wanted the lines, he was to give the county the opportunity to purchase them first.

"By contract, he was not to transfer ownership of what he has there without first making it available to the county. He went and transferred it to the Lackawanna Chapter of The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc."

O'Gurek said the county might end up in litigation with Hart and the historical society over the conveyance of that property.