Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Corman moving dirt, but VP says 'a lot of pieces need to come together' for an excursion train

By Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

R.J. Corman Railroad Group is almost ready to begin construction of its sidetrack in Midway, and is already moving dirt elsewhere that could lead to an excursion train serving the town.

“There is no formal plan for an excursion or dinner train to Midway at this time,” Noel Rush, vice president of strategic planning and development for Corman, said in an e-mail to the Midway Messenger. “We are optimistic we will be able to develop a plan as the excursion train becomes a viable business opportunity.”

Corman has begun excavation work in Lexington (above) to allow trains to pass under under the new Oliver Lewis Way (the Newtown Pike extension) from the railroad's yard to property it has leased from the Lexington Center Corp. that could be used for a passenger platform.

Lexington Center President Bill Owen confirmed in an e-mail that that Corman has leased sufficient area in the Cox Street parking lot to allow train access. He said all construction work on the project is under the railroad’s control, and has been slowed by complications with underground electric transmission lines and storm drains.

“I continue to be very enthusiastic about the project and feel it offers not only a nice attraction for convention attendees but also local residents,” Owen said.

While Corman says it has no formal plans for an excursion train, “Our lease with the Lexington Center is a forward thinking act in contemplation of our being able to make a business and financial case for operating an excursion train of some kind on a frequent basis,” Rush said. “There are a lot of pieces that need to come together before an excursion train becomes reality.”

Rush said the excursion-train idea has several things going for it: “Midway would be a natural destination because of its distance from Lexington, because it is such a picturesque town, and because we expect to build a siding there which will allow a shorter train, like an excursion train, to pull off the main freight line so our regular freight service is not interrupted.”

Suggestions from city officials that the sidetrack construction in Midway was related to a federal grant Corman received for various track improvements were not exactly correct, Rush said.

“It seems like a situation where over a period of time there have been a number of perspectives, and as things have changed some perspectives haven’t been kept current.” Kentucky and other states applied for economic-stimulus money to finance a package of improvements on Corman’s lines in July 2009, but the grant agreement with the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program was not executed until Dec. 1, 2010. (A PDF of the grant documents is here.)

“The Midway funding is entirely separate from the TIGER funding,” Rush said. However, “The improvements we are making on the Central Kentucky Line would be beneficial to future projects like an excursion or dinner train,” he said. “The R.J. Corman Railroad Group is interested in being a part of the economic growth of not only Midway, but downtown Lexington, as well.”

The Corman group has operated a dinner train from Bardstown for several years. (Corman photo: dinner train car) “My Old Kentucky Dinner Train has been a wonderful addition to our economic base,” said Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency. “It brings in affluent people, people that are also doing things on special occasions that might also cause them to spend the night, come to other attractions, shop in our stores.”

There has been speculation about commuter passenger service on Corman's line between Louisville and Lexington, but Rush suggested caution. “The idea of an 80- to 90-m.p.h. passenger rail service from Lexington to Frankfort does not seem viable for the immediate future; by that I mean in the next five years,” he said. Rail experts have said the tracks would need considerable improvement to accommodate commuter trains.

As far as Midway is concerned, the sidetrack is coming; the wall construction and handrails are scheduled; but the train is still around the bend.

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