By SUSAN BAUTZ, Special to the Dorchester County Department of Economic Development
“People love trains,” according to David Owens, vice president of the Eastern Shore Scenic Railroad (ESSR) volunteer group. If the numbers riding the train at the Hurlock Fall Festival are any indication, he is right. Once a year an engine and two restored passenger cars make six round trips between Hurlock and Federalsburg. The trips are sold out. About a thousand excited children, parents, and grandparents wait eagerly for a ride. Older folks remember train travel fondly; but for most children riding the rails means watching Thomas the Tank Engine.
The success of the one day event and the popularity of scenic railroads in Western Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania encouraged the ESSR volunteers to pursue the creation of a scenic railroad on 6.4 miles of Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) owned track between Hurlock and Preston. For the past nine years the group has worked with MDOT’s railroad division to obtain rights to the short, unused and deteriorating track through leasing or ownership.
The project promises to be an incredible boost to heritage tourism and translate into tens of thousands of dollars in terms of economic impact not only to the Hurlock/Preston corridor but other nearby points of interest. For the thousands who travel to Maryland beaches it could also be a delightful side trip.
Eastern Shore Scenic Railroad volunteers and state officials, including newly appointed Deputy Secretary of Transportation Dennis Schrader and five of his team members, started lease negotiations at a meeting last month in Hurlock for an unused, state-owned stretch of railroad track between Hurlock and Preston.
Mr. Schrader said that he intends to “facilitate and level the playing field so you can be successful. You might have lots of opportunities out there. We want to be helpful.” He said they want to be “honest brokers,” find answers quickly, and ensure the state is protected.
ESSR president Ellery Adams thanked Mr. Schrader for his help and gave kudos to former state Sen. Rich Colburn, and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Maryland, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio for their support.