Editor’s note: The following was received after today’s editorial was written and had no influence upon it.
If you look up “white elephant” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad,
I have been biting my tongue for a few years but it’s time to speak. Words that describe the WMSR and its operation are mismanagement, incompetence, patchwork and money pit. On the outside, the railroad looks like a nice tourist attraction. I’ve seen problems from the inside, and now they are becoming evident to the public with financial problems leading the way.
In the spring of 2016, superintendent John Garner told me “The WMSR has never met FRA requirements since the railroad started.” The Federal Railroad Administration is the governing body in the U.S. that sets the rules for all railroads, large or small.
Chronologically, this is what I experienced:
1. In the spring of 2012, I was hired by Frank Fowler (then superintendent) as an engineer. I was told that I would be certified and given a license. Even though I was an former locomotive engineer with Chessie System, I had not touched a throttle in 27 years. I made my first run without any sort of training. I never was issued a license.
2. When Michael Gresham took over, he said “You’re not even on the engineer’s list.” He said he might use me some. He never did.
3. When John Garner became the new superintendent, I thought I might get a fresh start. That’s when he told me about the FRA and that he would love to have me. That was fine until the COO Gene Cave came back from vacation and caused Garner to change his tune because of a personal grudge.
In the last few years:
• After Gresham took over, he fired long-time employee Donna Corley, who was the heart and soul of the WMSR’s third-floor operations.
• Shop superintendent Dan Pluta was fired. Dan had been there since the railroad began and was very valuable.
• WMSR got a large amount of money from the county and maybe other sources to repair the landslide. I thought they should be able to pay for their repairs or have insurance or something.
• They were (and maybe still are) running one of their engines 501 or 502 without “dynamic brake,” an integral part of the braking system on a locomotive as well as the entire train.
• They have asked for more money since the landslide.
• They don’t have money to restore the steam locomotive. Why would you take one steam locomotive out of service before the other is completed? Steam is the trademark of this railroad.
• They just painted the 501 locomotive. Where did they get the money? Was it necessary?
I don’t think he WMSR has been managed properly. I wrote a letter to the board of directors about some of these issues. There surely are many more issues than I have personally experienced.
Some have had band-aids put on them. Some have been ignored. I guess no one in charge wants to admit there are issues. After all, this is a big tourist attraction. It can’t fail. Well, the jig is up. Either straighten up or the railroad will be gone.
By the way: If I’m not starting out in a financial hole, I’d be the superintendent and I’ll run it they way it should be run and I’ll do it for free, or I’d like to have a seat on the board of directors. I encourage a rebuttal to this letter.