Local News

6/13/2013

Tourism train to begin operation

By GORDON JACKSON The Brunswick News

ST. MARYS -- Trains used to rumble down the tracks from Kingsland to St. Marys several times a day when the county's biggest employer, Gilman Paper Co., was in business.

But when the paper mill closed under new ownership in 2002, train traffic slowed dramatically. What was once a common sight in Kingsland and St. Marys now turns heads when the rare train passes by.

In coming months, trains will become a more common sight when an excursion train starts operating in St. Marys.

Officials from Boatright Industries, owner and operator of St. Marys Railroad, were in town Tuesday to discuss the creation of a train-related tourist attraction. St. Marys city officials, representatives from Theatre by the Trax and St. Marys Little Theatre attended the meeting.

The tentative arrangement is for St. Marys Railroad to provide the locomotive, driver and passenger cars. The St. Marys Little Theatre will provide creative development and people for entertainment and event supervision.

"Mr. Boatright is very community minded, and starting an excursion train in St. Marys is a win-win opportunity for the railroad and the community," said Paul Pleasant, general manager of St. Marys Railroad.

Company officials say they will begin building and/or buying open flat cars with metal seats and a cover that will hold about 50 passengers each.

"Boatright Cos. is known for its community involvement in the many markets they serve," said Barbara Ryan, chair of St. Marys Little Theatre. "Shane Boatright (founder and CEO of Boatright Cos.) has been a generous supporter of the St. Marys Little Theatre, and now his team has come up with a great idea to help foster economic development in St. Marys, while adding to the assets of our community."

Boatright's consultant, Jim Garnett, president of the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera, Ala., says it's important that the train take passengers to locations not accessible by car.

Preliminary plans are for the excursion train to run from Theatre by the Trax in downtown St. Marys to just beyond the Borrell Creek Bridge and for passengers to disembark for entertainment at Boatright Cos. land there.

Train experiences being considered include a Pumpkin Patch Ride, Polar Express, Wild West, and Peter Cottontail Express. Ultimately the planning group would like to produce "A Day Out with Thomas the Tank," an event that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people in other markets.

Two or three rail cars will be completed before the first excursion, which may be the Pumpkin Patch in October or sooner if the rail cars are completed before that time.

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.