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Lehigh Gorge Railroad Closing

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Lehigh Gorge Railroad Closing
Posted by steve-in-kville on Friday, October 18, 2019 8:38 AM

 

Big mistake on Jim Thorpe's part, if you ask me.

https://www.readingeagle.com/money/article/jim-thorpe-scenic-railroad-to-shut-down

Regards - Steve

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, October 18, 2019 3:33 PM

https://www.readingeagle.com/money/article/jim-thorpe-scenic-railroad-to-shut-down  

There you go, lit it up for you. 

I just read the story.  Obviously the mayor of Jim Thorpe never heard the story about not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, or it he did he never got the message. 

There are good bits of wisdom in those old fairy tales, but you have to pay attention.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 18, 2019 6:36 PM

Something as yet unclear to me is why Jim Thorpe, or some local agency, isn't actively supporting the cost of the operation in some way.  Surely the arguments used to justify all sorts of little levies for sports stadiums and the like, which show up in hidden charges even on local phone service, rental cars, and lodging could be applied here.  Let alone the strictly local as well as 'area' revenues from tourism, or even 'employment in the area', associated with the operation.

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, October 18, 2019 6:49 PM

Overmod
Something as yet unclear to me is why Jim Thorpe, or some local agency, isn't actively supporting the cost of the operation in some way.  Surely the arguments used to justify all sorts of little levies for sports stadiums and the like, which show up in hidden charges even on local phone service, rental cars, and lodging could be applied here.  Let alone the strictly local as well as 'area' revenues from tourism, or even 'employment in the area', associated with the operation.

I guess without the taxes on the Lehigh Gorge, Jim Throrpe will return to Mauch Chunk.

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Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, October 18, 2019 7:39 PM

We happened to be there yesterday morning, and a reporter was doing a TV report about the situation. It's a good, fair report, IMO.

https://www.wlvt.org/blogs/carbon/lehigh-gorge-scenic-railway-announces-no-more-train-excursions-in-jim-thorpe

By chance she asked me for a comment. I said sure. I'm the old bearded buzzard with a southern accent who appears very briefly near the end.

Jim Thorpe is a fabulous town. Thanks again to the gentleman who suggested visiting there. I hope the railroad is bluffing, and that a solution can be worked out. It will be a real shame if the train really ends.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 18, 2019 8:08 PM

Lithonia Operator
I hope the railroad is bluffing, and that a solution can be worked out.

Reading between the lines, the town is expecting to use the tax revenue for "improvements' unassociated with the railroad's operations, or actually to enhance competing 'tourist' attractions.  Without needing to allocate a nickel of actual tax revenue from 'voting' taxpayers to accomplish this.

It is possible Andy is doing the same sort of thing the Pikes Peak people seem to have done (and it's really no different except for scale from the scams sports-team owners use to 'venue-shop' to extort the best deal for them): here, state what the railroad will not do if it is expected to pay amusement tax; and in negotiations raise the issue of town support, perhaps as a minimum to establish effective 'sterilization' of any expense for amusement tax 'out of the local authority's other hand')

Likelihood that something this significant will be abolished forever?  I think little.  But expect to see a game of 'chicken' brinksmanship played fairly close to, and perhaps even a bit past, the stated deadline...

Now, if I were Andy, I'd have set up an arms-length separate entity (in part to shield liability) and leased the equipment and trackage rights to it; a lesser man than Andy would just roll this and let the town sue the receiver.  Then establish a new plan, specifically answering the amusement and other tax situation as well as demanding additional concessions for the 'benefits' the train service brings, set up a new operating entity (or bid for one) and lease the equipment to them in turn...

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Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, October 18, 2019 8:58 PM

We were only in Jim Thorpe briefly, and most of that was at lunch in a pub. I did not see the train go or come.

I'm curious. Does the train go one direction in a push move? Or does the engine run around the train? I assume there is no wye.

Here in Strasburg the train departs with the loco pulling, but tender first. At the junction (with NS), the engine runs around the train, and pulls it back to Strasburg facing "correctly."

A few days ago we rode the Stourbrige Line. Going was pull mode, by a Pennsy-painted F7. (The BL-2 was ailing.) Returning was all push mode, with a brakeman riding the now-leading caboose with a radio.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Friday, October 18, 2019 9:51 PM

It seems a lot of scenic towns have grown tired of tourist rail operations, and want something else.  There are 3 such cases in neighboring state New York.  Even in Durango, many locals are suing the D&S for million$ for forest fire damage they blame on their steam engines.

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Posted by D.Carleton on Monday, October 21, 2019 2:53 AM

BaltACD
I guess without the taxes on the Lehigh Gorge, Jim Throrpe will return to Mauch Chunk.

Now how many people got that? (And looking it up now doesn't count.)

That said, as per the linked PBS news piece it's inferred the railroad hasn't paid the tribute in 10 years. Did they ever? Perhaps a wrong conclusion on their part.

This iteration of the train has been running since 2005 but the borough seeks duty for only the last ten years and that's only after an "audit" from this year. Did they audit the railroad's books? Highly unlikely. Did an audit of their own books reveal they were asleep for a decade? This doesn't smell right.

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Posted by steve-in-kville on Monday, October 21, 2019 5:30 AM

The Gorge train they switch the locomotive somewhere in the middle of the ride to save fuel. Never took the Gorge ride, thats just what I am told.

The Budd rail car from Reading into Jim Thorpe can be driven from both ends.

As far as the diesel locomotive or the steamer, I'm not really sure. A coworker was there over the weekend, so I can find out.

Regards - Steve

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, October 21, 2019 7:58 AM

D.Carleton
That said, as per the linked PBS news piece it's inferred the railroad hasn't paid the tribute in 10 years. Did they ever? Perhaps a wrong conclusion on their part.

Sounds to me like a question of definition - the municipality has an "amusement tax."  Is a tourist operation within a commercial rail operation an "amusement?"  I think I read that the RR doesn't see it that way.  Apparently the municipality does.  One might wonder if the types of "amusements" are defined in the enabling law, or if it's subject to interpretation, which can change over time.  Previous administrations may have agreed with the RR's interpretation, thus didn't pursue the issue.

As for communities tiring of tourist rail operations - I was at breakfast Saturday morning, before our "layover" train was going to bring almost 500 people into a very tourist-oriented community of about 750 souls.  When I told them of the passenger count (they know I volunteer with the RR), there was a certain amount of "groan."  The businesses know that they will see a lot of customers, but they also know they will be very busy for several hours.  Kind of a mixed blessing.

There are folks who are "tired" of the railroad, but their agenda has nothing to do with the railroad and the accompanying passengers and everything to do with simply getting the tracks out of the woods.  The same ilk also fights, tooth and nail, to prevent any kind of development in the forest.

 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, October 21, 2019 8:40 AM

tree68
The businesses know that they will see a lot of customers, but they also know they will be very busy for several hours.  Kind of a mixed blessing.

The issue that isn't being discussed here is all the other residents in the area, who don't benefit financially from the tourism but certainly have to deal with the crossing flaggings, parking issues, and other issues without, in all probability, deriving any continuing joy from watching the operation.  They are the ones whose votes matter in local elections, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them vote to have those costs redressed by a direct tax on the 'cause' rather than a forced levy on them.

It's common-carrier transportation if people ride it to get to a destination.  It's amusement when pitched as a scenic ride that returns to its point of origin.  You may recall that the clever 'interstate transport' thing foundered on the fact that you couldn't get off the train, let alone buy a ticket to, the "interstate" point reached.

I got the impression from RyPN that no one is proposing "amusement tax" for the RDC service to the Philadelphia area that RBMN runs.  That is much more a legitimate transportation service than the Lehigh Gorge operation.

I still can't get over the inescapable feeling that this is associated with all the dollars paid to RBMN for flagging services earlier.

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Posted by Juniata Man on Monday, October 21, 2019 10:48 AM

Overmod

The issue that isn't being discussed here is all the other residents in the area, who don't benefit financially from the tourism but certainly have to deal with the crossing flaggings, parking issues, and other issues without, in all probability, deriving any continuing joy from watching the operation.  They are the ones whose votes matter in local elections, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them vote to have those costs redressed by a direct tax on the 'cause' rather than a forced levy on them.

On the other hand; the local businesses such as shops and restaurants that do benefit from the tourists who arrive by train presumably are paying local business and property taxes.  These taxes WOULD help support the services enjoyed by the residents of Jim Thorpe such as police, fire and street maintenance.  

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 21, 2019 12:20 PM

Andy Mueller might to well to request a meeting with the Mayor and give him this message:

"I'm a visitor to your town.  I wish to see Lehigh George.  I hire a regular taxi takes me there and waits while I take photos, and then brings me back to Jim Thorp.  Are you going to have that taxi driver pay an amusement tax?

How does that taxi-driver's service to me differ from what the railroad does?

Not only that, but the taxi driver asks me what music I like.  When I say Jazz, he says, 'Fine, I've got a Count Bassi CD,' and I enjoy the music as well as the scenery and trip.

If you don't charge the taxi driver with an amusement tax and charge the railroad, isn't that rank discrimination against the railroad industry?"

'

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, October 21, 2019 12:25 PM

daveklepper
Andy Mueller might to well to request a meeting with the Mayor and give him this message:

From what I read, the mayor has been requesting to meet with the railroad.

daveklepper
How does that taxi-driver's service to me differ from what the railroad does?

Taxis are regulated under the PUC, and have a different host of regualtions to abide by that the railraod doesn't.  If we are going to regard the railroad as transportation, then there's a host of issues that will open up.

 

You're equating two different things here.  It doesn't make sense.  RBMN may even have had an easier case if they were flying under the RBMN banner, but when they are operating the Lehigh Gorge SCENIC railway, then yeah, it sounds more of an amusement than transportation.

 

You want to argue whether amusement taxes should be a thing, then yeah, I'm all up for a debate on that.  But there seems to be a play of personalities up in Mauch Chunk. 

  

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, October 21, 2019 12:27 PM

Combined messages below.

 

  

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 21, 2019 1:09 PM

Again, the railroad provides transportation to and from a scenic location, so just as other railroads put a city in their name, this railroad's passenger operation puts its destination, scenery, in its name.  That does not imply in anyway that it is an amusement.  You are defining amusesment to suit the Mayor's needs, and in doing so you are working agains the interests of the railroad industry in general, expcially all short-line railroads that run excursion trains.  All/

And just because one form of transportation is regulated by one government agency and another one by another agency has absolutely zero to do with the simiple fact that taxing one system of transportation with a specific tax and not taxing another is discrimination.  Are you in love with the mayor?  I happen to be in love with trains.

 

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, October 21, 2019 1:49 PM

Yeah, we're getting married next month.  Coming to the reception?

 

I think you're looking at this with a 1960's nostalgic view of and excursion railroad, not a current day scenic, and yes, entertainment operation.  People are not riding this from A->B.  They are riding for the sake of riding.  Like a roller coaster. 

 

And knowing you meant well, I'll excuse you for your remarks of my interest in the railroad industry this time.

  

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Monday, October 21, 2019 2:02 PM

OK everyone, simmer down a bit.  There's got to be a middle ground.

Let's look at it this way, what expenses are incurred by the town when the train shows up?  Is there overtime required for a police presence to handle the crowds?  Are there EMT personnel standing by just in case someone on the train has a medical issue?  Is extra trash pick-up required?  Or anything else?

If not, then the town is benefiting from all those tourist dollars the train brings in at no cost to themselves. A God-send for a town in the boonies that few people would have any reason to visit to begin with. (Does anyone really  care that the great Jim Thorpe is buried there?)     If so, then I'd say it's reasonable for the town to ask for a little help from the railroad in covering the above expenses. 

Again, middle ground.  Still, as I see it the town benefits a lot more from the railroad going there than the railroad does by going there. 

Let me give an example from personal experience.  When Norfolk-Southern was running their steam program back in the 90's the train from Richmond made a three-hour stop in Appomattox.  (The train proceeded to Danville where it was turned, and then returned.)  Appomattox had a "Rail Fair" on train days and local merchants made quite a bit of money from the several hundred people the train brought in.  The town knew a good thing when they saw it and never  hit up NS for money, not to anyone's knowledge anyway.  As a matter of fact they were devastated (Figuratively, not literally) when the steam program ended in 1994.  All that revenue, gone.   

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 21, 2019 2:17 PM

How do you know the purpose of the riders?  Have you ridden the train and talked to them?  If the train were hauled by steam, I could agree.  But in general, are railfan trips to be characterized as amusement?  Do you want to have all railfan trips everywhere have the additional burden of an amusement tax?

Or are you part of the trend in some political circles to expand the role of government in general?   (I am not commenting on the other circles that wish to dminish its role, regardless of what the needs met by particular roles are.)

To me amusement taxes may be appropriate in specific situations for movie houses, theatres, pool rooms, horse-race and car-racing venues with betting, amusement parks and trains in parks that just go round-and-round in a small cirscle, sort of a train version of a merrygoround, etc.  I would question such a tax on athletic facilities of all types.  But I do not believe they should apply on transportation facilities, regardless of the motives of individual riders.  If it goes from one place to another, even if it brings you back, it's transportation, not amusement.

I see this as an opening to a process of destruction of much of what railfans enjoy.

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, October 21, 2019 2:18 PM

daveklepper
But in general, are railfan trips to be characterized as amusement?

I would say: yes.

 

  

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, October 21, 2019 2:20 PM

daveklepper
I see this as an opening to a process of destruction of much of what railfans enjoy.

If a tourist railway is depending on railfans, they aren't going to be around very long.

  

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, October 21, 2019 3:00 PM

I don't think the railroad is going to defeat the tax by challenging the City's definition of "amusement."  They can call the tax anything they want.  What I would like to know is how this tax came to be charged retroactively.  That would make it far more galling than just the imposition of a new tax.  It sounds to me like this issue quickly turned personal, and now neither side is capable of backing down. 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, October 21, 2019 3:06 PM

daveklepper
Do you want to have all railfan trips everywhere have the additional burden of an amusement tax?

This does raise additional questions, but I think they're already addressed in many respects during planning and execution of railfan 'excursions'.  The concern I've had about this is much the same as yours: whether municipalities or other government agencies 'wake up' and find a new revenue opportunity to impose on excursion operators -- this being somewhat more pronounced a threat for repeated operations like the Cuyahoga Valley's recent 'Steam in the Valley" trips.

At present some of the additional costs for 'government' presence -- increased security, accommodation of road crossings and the like -- appear to be handled either by mutual agreement or pre-arranged payment, not by a tax on the actual value of ticket sales (which is what an amusement-tax arrangement would do).  To some extent, towns through which excursion trains pass ... especially without stopping ... have not tried further recouping for their own inconveniences; note that I haven't even started addressing the weird behavior of railfans chasing inappropriately, setting up for photos dangerously, and the rest of the uncompensated-liability issues that make city attorneys start to chew their nails.  I have to suspect concerns like these are part of why Andy and crew are fighting this idea so much on 'principle': if you establish a precedent that excursions are 'amusement' ... and most of them, honestly, are ... you also establish the likelihood that all sorts of jurisdiction will want to be part of the pie -- or not leave pie on the table, as it were.

If we learned anything from the situation in Port Arthur, it's that local government, confronted with a potential gain or loss to its taxpayers, may react with what appears greed.  While that's exacerbated in a chronically poor (or tax-limited) community, it certainly applies to any even remotely Bayesian city management... once the precedent is established.

I don't think this is a stalking horse to expand the reach of 'governments', or even their prerogative to impose new 'regulations' to justify increased taxation.  It's revenue, pure and simple, and the promise of reducing taxes on its constituent voters.  

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Posted by MMLDelete on Monday, October 21, 2019 5:07 PM

What was "the situation in Port Arthur?"

Port Arthur TX?

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, October 21, 2019 5:14 PM

Flintlock76
Let's look at it this way, what expenses are incurred by the town when the train shows up?  Is there overtime required for a police presence to handle the crowds?  Are there EMT personnel standing by just in case someone on the train has a medical issue?  Is extra trash pick-up required?  Or anything else?

I can't speak for the railroad in question.  For us, the answer to all of the questions is no.  We handle our own crossings, our crowds at the station don't usually require any law enforcement attention, and even when we bring in a train of 500 passengers, it's just that many more people downtown.  Trash pickup is nothing out of the ordinary.  Just one more dumpster to empty as they make their rounds - and even the taxpayers aren't charged specifically for trash pickup.

That said, the downtown businesses like to know how many we are bringing - most (especially the restaurants) want to have enough staff available.  An occasional miscommunication brings hard feelings when trains show up that they weren't expecting, or trains don't show up when they were expected.

At one point, when the businesses realized just how much business we were bringing them, said businesses funded the shuttle busses between the station and the downtown area.

That said, the railroad probably does qualify as an amusement, so in that respect, they ought to be paying the tax.

I really have to question, however, why it took the municipality over ten years to discover they weren't getting the money.  Either someone wasn't paying attention, or there was a sweetheart deal (handshake, whatever) letting the railroad off.  Clearly, if that was the case, the deal is now off.

Wanting the "back pay" may just be getting greedy, or serve as a way to balance the books ("free money!").  The municipality needs to take a look at the financial effect of the trains on local businesses and consider that information as they move forward.  Some negotiation may be in order - maybe paying back at cents on the dollar, or over time.  

Otherwise, it's another case of killing off the goose that lays the golden eggs. 

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, October 21, 2019 5:31 PM

Some facts that may help illuminate this discussion:

If you look at an aerial photo of Jim Thorpe, you'll see that the large Carbon Co. parking lot - the only one of any size in the vicinity - is on the opposite side of the tracks from the nearest street (US 209).  It paralells the tracks on its east side for quite a distance, ~2,000 ft.  The grade crossing from 209 into the parking lot is at these Lat./ Long. coords.: N 40.86377 W 75.73680 .  There's no other access into the parking lot - the other side abuts the Lehigh River.  The parking lot is big enough to accomodate most train riders, I think.  The County charges like $5 a car to park, as I recall.  I believe it's a private crossing, and the railroad protects it when the train is crossing.  

A train rider - once they've driven into town - could park in the County lot, ride the train, and return, and need never set foot on any other public or private street or property other than railroad and County until they leave.  Even the bathroom facilities are in the tourist/ visitors bureau in the train station. It's only when the visitors cross 209 - which usually has one or two policemen of some type (fire police?) to protect the main crossing by the station - to eat, shop, visit the attractions, etc. that they really go into the town and use any services on a routine basis (excluding emergency services).

- PDN.   

 

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, October 21, 2019 5:54 PM

Lithonia Operator
What was "the situation in Port Arthur?"

Steam locomotive 503.  It would take too long to explain; you'll get a much better idea if you look it up.  Vast and wonderful coverage on RyPN, which was involved in both the effort and the aftermath.

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, October 21, 2019 6:51 PM

At least it appears the business district is a very short walk from the station.

In our case, folks coming up from the Utica area are still about a mile short of downtown Old Forge when they arrive at the station.  If they don't take the time to explore (many do ask) they could easily just turn around and head back south.

Fortunately, a good many are also looking for something to eat, and that's where most of the restaurants are.

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Posted by MMLDelete on Monday, October 21, 2019 7:14 PM

Yes, in Jim Thorpe the (extremely picturesque) business district is right there. We ate at an Irish pub about 50 yards from the depot. And it was good food.

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