Scenic Railroad to receive $200K for track maintenance

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Feb. 6—CUMBERLAND — The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has been awarded a state grant for $200,000 for track maintenance, according to CEO Wes Heinz.

Although the scenic railroad is in the process of reviving 13.5 miles of track recently leased through the George's Creek Valley from Shaft to Westernport, the $200,000 in funding will be used along the scenic railroad's 16-mile stretch between Cumberland and Frostburg.

Funding sought at the state level, according to Heinz, has changed somewhat in the last year but he is thankful for money for track maintenance.

"It's something that I was taught long ago. Your railroad will only be as good as its track," he said. "It's your most substantial piece of equipment you have."

The railroad had been approved for $1.5 million in state funding dating back to Gov. Larry Hogan's last fiscal year, however the administration of Gov. Wes Moore reduced that appropriation to the $200,000 for track maintenance.

Heinz said Moore, who road aboard the WMSR Polar Express in December, has decided to designate $1.5 million in capital funds for 2024 for improvements to the rail bridge across the North Branch Potomac River between the WMSR train yard in Ridgeley, West Virginia, and the Western Maryland Railway Station in Cumberland where passengers board.

"That will require support from the local delegation as well as others throughout the state," said Heinz. "I will be going to Annapolis speaking with different representatives from all over the state of Maryland to make sure we have support for that.

"I will articulate to them the importance of tourism and the family experience that we create."

The $200,000 allocation will be used for a portion of track near Frostburg, according to Heinz.

"The funding is mostly all tie replacement. It's called tamping, leveling and lining. The tamping, which allows us to put stone under the actual ties and that's what keeps the line level. They make sure the profile is right," he said.

"We have actually been doing track work out of our own operating budget for some time," added Heinz. "A lot of the (current grant allocation) will replenish money we spent last year."

Heinz said 80 ties were installed last week. The work is done a third by WMSR staff and the rest by Rhinehart Railroad Construction.

Railroad tracks, according to Heinz, are federally classified by their condition and use. He said the WMSR track is predominately Class 1, approved for 15 mph with two miles of it approved at Class 2, which is 30 mph.

Heinz said to maintain track at Class 2 it would require an estimated $1.1 million per year. "This year alone we will do an investment of $500,000 from our normal operating budget," he said.

Heinz said the WMSR, which reported a sizable increase in ridership in 2023, wants to maintain a high quality service and offer new excursions. He said the railroad will likely add features including beer trains featuring local breweries.

"But for me it is important that we continue to bring in families," said Heinz. "We want mom and dad and the grandparents coming back. As long as we are doing that we can't lose. The steam engine (No. 1309 Maryland Thunder) will be back out mid-summer. It's cool to have the equipment.

"But what really tells us if we are doing it right or wrong is the moms and dads and grandmas and granddads. If the kids are having a good time we know we are hitting it out of the park."

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email and follow him on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.