By TIM HORAN
Borrowing a line from Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers, the Dickinson County Commission is doing it’s best to “keep this train a-rollin’.”
The commission is partnering with the Abilene Smoky Valley Railroad Association to keep one of only two steam engines in Kansas rolling down the railroad tracks or in this case, over a bridge.
Smoky Valley manager Mary Jane Oard told the commissioners during a work study session Thursday that a bridge along the track the train takes from Abilene to Enterprise is in need of repair.
The cost is a whopping sum of $400,000.
There are grants available through the Kansas Department of Transportation but the railroad association can’t apply. It must be a government agency that completes the grant application, thus the partnership with Dickinson County.
The commissioners agreed to apply for the 80-20 grant with the Smoky Valley Railroad Association paying for all of the $8,000 cost plus engineering fees.
“They had requested that Dickinson County be the sponsoring agency for a grant through KDOT to obtain funding to repair the bridge on their railroad track to Enterprise,” County Administrator Brad Homman said at Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting. “We have some concerns as to responsibility on the long term care and maintenance of the bridge. In a nutshell, we plan to meet with KDOT in the next couple days. It looks like the county commissioners are willing to sponsor that grant.”
The deadline for the grant is Feb. 15.
“We did emphasize how important from a historical standpoint that they keep that excursion train going,” said county Chairman LaVerne Myers. “I think she said there are only two in the state of Kansas that have a steam engine.”
“I find it interesting that there were 180 tours and that does not include school tours. So there were 360 trips across this bridge,” Homman said. “To me, that is just phenomenal.”
“The train is certainly a tremendous asset to our community,” said Commissioner Lynn Peterson. “There are just so many people that come in from out of state that are so enthusiastic about the steam engine. We really get a lot of bang for our buck because there are so many volunteers in that group. There are so many train enthusiasts or with train backgrounds that come in from other communities to work on and maintain the railroad. But there is no guarantee and I guess there are quite a few applicants. I think it is a real opportunity to help them.”
A public hearing will be held.
“We certainly want to get the bridge repaired,” Myers said. “And keep that train going to Enterprise.”
Oard told the Reflector-Chronicle that the train made 184 full runs from Enterprise and back in 2012.
“We just go out to Key Road on school runs and the Santa Claus run and Easter Bunny run,” she said. “We had a total of 7,875 total passengers.”
She said they also do nursing home runs.
“We are busy through the season,” she added. “School runs are generally April and May. We have a school run as early as April 4. We start the regular season the first weekend in May and run through the October on weekends. From Memorial Day through Labor Day we run Wednesday through Sunday.”
She said the train started the short runs in 1994. The full runs started in the spring of 1995.
Oard said that for the excursions to continue, the bridge over the Smoky Hill River will need to eventually be repaired.
“We do check it whenever we are operating once a week. The same way the track is inspected once a week to make sure there is nothing wrong,” she said. “The same for the steam engine. We are getting ready for our five year inspection. They have to tear it down, get the inspectors out and put it all back together. Every 15 years all the flue tubes have to come out and be inspected.”
Oard said that fundraisers will be held to pay for the expense of the bridge repair.
“There is going to some fundraisers involved whether we get the grant or not,” she said. “We’re looking at a capital campaign.”
The commission will also take another look at redistricting. More on that will appear in Monday’s newspaper.