By TIM HORAN
A half million dollar grant from the federal government to fix a bridge on the Smoky Hill River used by the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad was sent back to Washington.
The grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation was requested by the Dickinson County Commission to fix a bridge the railroad uses on its trips from Abilene to Enterprise for the excursion train.
Mary Jane Oard, general manager, said the Smoky Valley Railroad is going to fix it cheaper and sooner than the government.
“Joe (Minick) figured out, being the engineer that he is, that if Smoky Valley Railroad is its own contractor, we can probably get it done for around $115,000. If we went through KDOT, our 20 percent was going to be around $148,000 the way they had it figured,” Oard said.
The Smoky Valley Railroad would have to come up with 20 percent of the funds by November for the repairs which could be two years away.
She said the KDOT timeline wasn’t going to get the bridge fixed until September 2015 which the railroad would have to use for two more summers before the repair.
Oard said that from Memorial Day to Labor Day the train makes 45 to 50 trips over the bridge each month.
“We feel it needs to be sooner rather than later. As us being our own contractor, we can start it in November as soon as our season is over with and have it ready next spring,” she said.
The Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad has launched a $500,000 capital campaign.
As for the bridge, the west pier needs repaired.
“Joe says it’s like a house that has a roof that you are going to need to repair,” she said. “So you better fix it before it leaks rather than wait until you have a big leak and ruin everything else. That’s the way we feel about the bridge. We had better fix it before it gets to where we can’t go over it.
“It might last two or three years without doing anything. The guys go out periodically to make sure that it hasn’t moved,” she said. “Even with the high water, it didn’t. It didn’t budge.”
So why a $500,000 campaign?
“That will not only fix the bridge but the tracks from Abilene to Enterprise,” Oard said, adding volunteers have been doing track repairs. “Several years ago we had people do piecemeal, here and there, but we need to have a company in and do the whole thing.”
The railroad is seeking tax deductible donations to raise the $500,000.
The Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad was formed in 1993. The excursion train has been operating for 19 years, providing train rides not only to the general public but also special groups, school field trips, plus dinner trains, birthday parties, weddings and reunions.
To date there have 215,000 riders with a total impact for Dickinson County and Abilene at about $1,326,000 per year.
To donate, contact the ASVRR at P.O. Box 744, Abilene, KS. 67410.