Landslide takes scenic railroad's Frostburg excursions off track

Mountain Thunder, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s 1916 Baldwin locomotive, chugs to the turntable at the Frostburg Depot after a trip from Cumberland in this 2014 CTN file photo. A landslide and subsequent erosion on tracks near Frostburg made the route impassible, prompting the scenic railroad to postpone excursions to the depot.

CUMBERLAND — Track damage from a landslide believed to be mine-related will keep Western Maryland Scenic Railroad trains from reaching their Frostburg destination until summer, officials said Monday.

The landslide, located on tracks between Frostburg and Switch No. 9, was discovered Thursday during a routine track inspection. Land below the railroad tracks has slipped away at an estimated 2 to 4 feet. The erosion makes the tracks impassible, John Garner, scenic railroad superintendent, said.

"This will hold things up," Garner said. "We're looking not to reconnect into Frostburg until, at the very earliest, July."

The Maryland Bureau of Mines visited the site Friday to begin an investigation. Field testing of the area is expected to take up to 45 days, according to Garner. If the Bureau of Mines finds the landslide is indeed mine-related, emergency repairs are expected to take an additional 30 to 60 days.

John Saylor is co-owner and operator of the Trail Inn Lodging Campground and Cafe at the Frostburg Depot. The train turntable is adjacent to Saylor's property. 

He said his livelihood depends on the scenic railroad's excursions, which begin in Cumberland and end at the depot. He wants the repair process expedited. 

"It's gonna hit us hard," said Saylor. "I'm gonna try to get on the phone today (Monday) and talk to Sen. (George) Edwards and see if there's anybody that can help push this along and get it done as soon as possible."

Saylor said most of his business comes from train passengers.

"About 85 to 90 percent of our business comes off that train," said Saylor. "We still have to pay bills and we aren't going to have the money to do it. The season was just getting ready to open and they were even going to have trains running in April and it looked like a fantastic year. It's not only a disaster for the railroad but business owners."

The best case scenario is the Bureau of Mines detects a mine-related issue and takes full financial responsibility to repair the site, Garner said. If the damage is not a result of mine damage, Garner said the railroad will be forced to reconsider its excursions to Frostburg.

"I believe it will cause a major decision for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to make that repair," said Garner. "We have already invested the majority of our funding options into the historic steam locomotive 1309 and that has drained all of our financial reserves. If we end up having to do a major track program like this, it's going to be cause for some serious re- evaluation on the Frostburg leg."

In the meantime, trains will travel as far as Switch No. 9, about 2 miles outside of Frostburg. Once there, passengers will have a half-hour layover before returning to Cumberland.

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