Posts Tagged ‘Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway’

R&N Steam Locomotive to Run in August

July 31, 2020

Reading & Northern plans to use 4-6-2 No. 425 to power the first weekend of tourist train service to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, by its Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.

The trips will run on Aug. 14, 15 and 16.

Tickets are $17 for a standard coach seat and $20 for an open window coach. Children (ages 2 to 12) tickets for those accommodation s are $9 and $10.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 570-3258485. The trips are 70 minutes in duration.

Trains will depart at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday; and at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

No. 425 was built by Baldwin in 1982 for the Gulf, Mobile & Northern, and was purchased by the Reading & Northern in 1984. It began running for the R&N in 2007.

R&N Restoring Tourist Trains to Jim Thorpe

July 28, 2020

The Reading & Northern Railroad has again decided to restore tourist train service to the borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, effective July 29.

The service is provided through the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.

Service to Jim Thorpe has been an on and off proposition as the railroad and local government officials have tangled over an entertainment tax on LGSR tickets.

The R&N contended that its trains were educational and not entertainment.

Tourist train operations to Jim Thorpe were suspended last fall.

The two sides have reported reaching an agreement in February, but that soon fell apart.

“We are played to do our part to help Jim Thorpe, Carbon County, and the region bounce back from the impact of the virus in our community,” R&N owner and CEO Andy Muller said in a statement.

R&N, City Still at Odds Over Tax

May 5, 2020

The Reading & Northern is once again at odd with the Pennsylvania borough of Jim Thorpe and that might thwart plans to resume tourist railroad operations there.

R&N last year shut down its Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway operations in Jim Thorpe in protest of an amusement tax the city wanted to levy on tickets sold.

The two sides had apparently reached an agreement in February settling the dispute but now R&N is opposed to a proposed city ordinance to exempt the Lehigh Gorge from the tax.

R&N had argued last year and continues to claim that it is not subject to nor will ever be subject to an amusement tax and it won’t return the Lehigh Gorge to Jim Thorpe without a written agreement standing that it doesn’t owe the tax.

The borough said in a news release it can’t agree to those terms.

The dispute had come to a head last fall after the borough and a local school district sought almost $100,000 in back amusement taxes.

The R&N said it is not an amusement said it won’t “pay any so-called amusement tax.”

Lehigh Gorge To Again Serve Jim Thorpe, Pa.

February 12, 2020

Lehigh Gorge Scenic passenger trains will roll into Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, once more in the wake of the settling of a tax dispute.

The tourist railroads owner, Reading & Northern Railroad, had shut down the service in the wake of a dispute with the borough of Jim Thorpe over an entertainment tax.

The borough and a local school district had sued the railroad for non-payment of the tax.

A statement issued by R&N owner Any Mueller Jr. said the dispute has been settled but did provide information on the terms.

R&N had contended that its tourist trains were not an amusement. However, the lawsuits had been dropped last November.

The first trips to Jim Thorpe will operate on Feb. 15 as part of the town’s Winterfest.

R&N Says it Broke Traffic Records in 2019

January 8, 2020

Pennsylvania-based short line Reading & Northern Railroad said this week that it broke its previous records for carloadings, freight revenue and excursion ticket sales in 2019.

It posted a 6 percent increase in carloadings, handling more than 34,000 carloads.

That was an increase of 2,000 carloads over 2018 levels.

The carrier said in a news release that revenues “were up by double digits as a result of changes in traffic mix and implementation of strategies to increase R&N length of hauls in order to reduce transit time for our customers.”

Despite that, R&N said its traffic would have been even higher had it not lost 1,000 carloads of export anthracite coal business.

However, 20 existing shippers increased their rail business by more than 10 percent

Looking ahead to 2020, R&N expects traffic to increase as a number of industrial development projects begin a full year of service.

This will include two new customers at the Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazleton and other projects expected to be completed this year.

Even the anthracite coal business could see a boost, R&N said, due to more on-line coal facilities starting production this year and more steel mills set to receive Pennsylvania anthracite.

As for passenger traffic, R&N and its subsidiary Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway posted ridership last year of more than 143,000.

Amusement Tax Lawsuit Dropped Against Lehigh Gorge

November 22, 2019

A Pennsylvania city and school district have dropped their lawsuit against the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway seeking unpaid taxes and are not trying to entice the line to stay.

The Lehigh Gorge had said last month that it would cease operating from Jim Thorpe on Nov. 25 because the borough and a school district have sought to force it to pay more than $95,000 in amusement taxes.

The tourist line, which is owned by the Reading & Northern Railroad had refused to pay the tax, saying it is not an amusement and therefore not subject to the tax.

Borough and railroad officials have reportedly held two meetings seeking to return operations of the Lehigh Gorge to Jim Thorpe in 2020.

Borough council president Greg Strubinger said the city had decided to end the lawsuit, but reserved the right to refill it if the two sides fails to reach an agreement.

It is unclear if the borough will seek other means to collect the unpaid taxes.

Strubinger said one purpose of the discussions was show the railroad its concerns with some of the financial restraints and constraints that the city faces.

So What is a Tourist Train if Not Transportation?

October 26, 2019

Several years ago I was interviewing Wheeling & Lake Erie CEO Larry Parsons for a magazine article I was writing when the subject of excursion trains came up.

At the time the Wheeling hosted excursions sponsored by the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society and the Midwest Railway Preservation Society among others.

Parsons made it clear that he disliked passenger trains, particularly excursion trains.

“I mean, there’s no transportation function here,” he said about them.

That comment came to mind recently when I read about a fight in Pennsylvania involving the Reading & Northern and the borough of Jim Thorpe.

The R&N announced it would cease operating its Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway tourist train out of Jim Thorpe in the wake of a dispute over an amusement tax the municipality insists the railroad must charge per ticket.

R&N owner Andy Muller Jr. argues that the Lehigh Gorge is not an amusement and he refuses to collect the tax.

The mayor of Jim Thorpe, though, says the Lehigh Gorge is an amusement. “You go out and you come back,” said Mayor Michael Sofranko.

As the mayor sees it, that is entertainment and not transportation.

The news stories reporting on the dispute, which includes a lawsuit filed against the railroad by the borough and local school district to force collection of the tax, have not explicitly said what purpose Muller believes his tourist railroad serves. But a quotation from Muller offers a clue.

“I have offered passenger excursion rides to local communities as a way of thanking them for support over the years and to educate young and old in the glorious role railroads in this region played in our country’s industrial revolution,” Muller said.

Based on that, Muller thinks the purpose of his tourist trains is education and public relations.

As is often the case in any dispute, the way that the disputants frame what is at stake is not necessarily a complete picture of what led to the conflict.

There probably are underlying agendas and without knowing the participants I won’t speculate on their motives.

Whenever there is a dispute over taxes, though, it is because someone doesn’t want to pay it because it will result in less money in their pocket. Tax disputes also have roots in differing philosophies about the roles and purposes of government.

Yet the dispute in Pennsylvania also raises a question of what constitutes transportation and how it overlaps with such other functions as entertainment and education.

Closer to Northeast Ohio, we have the example of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which would not exist today were it not for public money.

Public money purchased the tracks when CSX abandoned them; public money has rebuilt the tracks and established an infrastructure of stations and repair facilities, and public money has rebuilt the tracks when flooding washed them out.

And where did that public money come from? Taxes.

The CVSR doesn’t receive a direct stream of public funding to pay for operations as does Amtrak, but it is a private-public venture that is supported by the National Park Service, which does receive such a funding stream.

But does the CVSR provide transportation, entertainment or education?

If we adopt the viewpoint of W&LE CEO Parsons and Jim Thorpe Mayor Sofranko, the CVSR is not transportation because its transportation function is ancillary to its other purposes. It is transportation as a form of enjoyable consumption.

Most CVSR passengers just happen to be riding a means of transportation, a railroad, as they view the passing wonders of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

They depart from point A and return there at the end of their ride even if they might get off at Peninsula for a layover to have lunch, browse some shops, or take a hike on the Towpath Trail.

But what about Bike Aboard? Much of the time, bicyclists are using the train to move from Point A , where they stopped or are started their bike trip, to Point B where they are ending or starting their bike trip.

That would seem to be a pure transportation function.

Yet, arguably, biking in the CVNP is still entertainment even if many would argue that it’s recreation.

Even if the CVSR provides a sort of transportation function, it differs greatly from hauling, say, raw steel, minerals, food products or containers with packages of auto parts that are used in business and commerce.

I haven’t seen any statistics about the matter, but I would expect the percentage of bicyclists who use Bike Aboard is a small slice of those who ride bikes in the park.

People would still ride their bikes in the CVNP even if the CVSR didn’t exist to give them a lift back to their cars.

But if railroads were to stop hauling raw steel, minerals, food products and containers of auto parts the economy of the United States would take a major hit that all of us would feel.

The transportation function that railroads provide is significant whereas by comparison the transportation provided by tourist railroads is minuscule. That is not to say it is meaningless.

Entertainment is significant, too, and provides its own substantial share of the U.S. economy. And entertainment makes our lives better although some would argue that it is subordinate to our purpose in life as worker bees.

Not all entertainment is the same, but that’s an argument for a different day.

Tourist railroads are a tiny fraction of the entertainment industry or for that matter the education industry.

Tourist railroads such as the Lehigh Gorge or CVSR do provide education. But is education their primary purpose? I rather doubt it.

I can understand why tourist railroads might want to emphasize their role in providing education. It comes across as serving a larger and more important purpose than entertainment. That could matter a lot when you have to argue for continued public money for support.

If the lawsuit against the R&N over its refusal to collect and pay the amusement tax in Jim Thorpe goes to trial, Andy Muller will have his day in court at explaining why his tourist railroad is not an amusement.

That might be a tough one to get a judge to accept.

R&N To Offer More Santa Trains

October 19, 2019

Four days after saying it would end tourist train service to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, the Reading & Northern has announced plans for new Santa Train operations at other locations.

This week the R&N’s Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway said it would end operations in November due to an entertainment tax dispute with the borough of Jim Thorpe.

In a news release, the R&N said it will focus the expanded Santa train operations at five communities with existing facilities.

R&N said it will consider additional communities in 2020.

Cities getting the additional Santa trains include:

Reading Outer Station: Nov. 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, and 24; Minersville Station: Nov. 30, Dec. 1; Schuylkill Haven Station: Dec. 7-8; Tunkhannock: Dec. 14-15; and Pottsville Union Station: Dec. 21-22.

Trains will depart at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. at each station and offer 70 to 80 minute trip.

Ticket are $15 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-12; children 2 and under are free. The trains will feature holiday music, free candy, and a visit from Santa Claus.

Ticket information is available at 610-562-2102.

In a related development, the mayor of Jim Thorpe, Michael Sofranko, said the borough was “blindsided” by the decision of the R&N to end its Lehigh Gorge service.

He defended the city’s decision to impose an entertaining tax on the tickets sold by the Lehigh Gorge, saying the trips were round trips and not point to point.

“You go out and you come back,” Sofranko said. “It’s an amusement.”

He also said the borough had been trying to arrange a meeting with Muller to work out an agreement.

Tax Dispute to Shutter Pa. Tourist Railroad

October 17, 2019

A dispute over taxes has led to the announced closing of a Pennsylvania tourist railroad.

The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway said it will cease operations on Nov 25 rather than agree to a request by the borough of Jim Thorpe to begin paying an amusement tax and a lawsuit seeking back taxes.

Owner Andy Muller Jr. said in a statement that the passenger operations will be moved elsewhere.

The Lehigh Gore and a sister railroad, the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern, have operated from Jim Thorpe for 15 years, offering a 16-mile round trip through Lehigh Gorge State Park.

Excursion trains will continue to operate in October and November until the planned shutdown.

However, the planned Santa trains will not operate and those who have purchased tickets will be given refunds.

In his statement, Muller said his railroads make their money in the freight business.

“I have offered passenger excursion rides to local communities as a way of thanking them for support over the years and to educate young and old in the glorious role railroads in this region played in our country’s industrial revolution,” Muller said.

The tourist railroad was sued in September by the borough and local school district for failure to pay $95,971.39 in back taxes for failure to pay the amusement tax in 2016 through 2018.

The borough collects a 5 percent amusement tax and the Jim Thorpe Area School District collects a 2.5 percent.

Typically, those fees are added to the ticket or admission price.

Muller contend that his tourist railroad is “is not an amusement and will not pay any so-called amusement tax.”

The closing of the Lehigh Gorge will not affect Reading Blue Mountain & Northern passenger operations from other locations to Jim Thorpe.

R&N Set Revenue, Carloadings Records in 2015

January 13, 2016

The Pennsylvania-based Reading & Northern Railroad said it posted record-breaking carload volumes and revenue records in 2015.

It handled 28,940 carloads, a 19 percent increase (4,500 carloads) from the previous record set in 2014.

The R&N handles wood pulp, paper, metals, food products, plastics, forest products, chemicals, minerals and anthracite coal.

The railroad said that its 2015 freight revenues broke the previous record by 30 percent. Much of the R&N’s growth came from new trans-loading and warehouse businesses.

R&N said it did well in all commodity areas except business related to the Marcellus Shale, which fell by about two-thirds.

“However, unlike other regional railroads, which saw their overall traffic decline, Reading & Northern was able to achieve spectacular growth due to its emphasis on customer service and its entrepreneurial focus,” said CEO and owner Andy Muller, Jr. “Our record breaking volumes for 2015 prove that our decision to offer our customers guaranteed service windows does grow the business. And in 2016 we are taking this commitment one step further by improving our already excellent service by hiring more crews and running more trains, and faster.”

A Reading & Northern sister company, Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, posted a record in 2015 as well, by handling more than 100,000 passengers on its excursions trains.

The Reading & Northern Railroad, headquartered in Port Clinton, is a privately held company serving more than 60 customers in nine eastern Pennsylvania counties (Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Wyoming).

It owns more than 1,000 freight cars and employs more than 200 people.