JIM THORPE, CARBON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A Pocono Mountain scenic destination is getting back on the tracks. It could mean the much-needed boost for Carbon County small businesses and tourism.
The train is coming back to Jim Thorpe. Passenger seating coming next month and the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, once lost. That means a boost for the economy and tourism from Jim Thorpe to Carbon County and the entire Pocono region.
“There have been so many tourists coming into the agency and the visitor’s center in Jim Thorpe and asking ‘Where’s the train? When’s the train coming back? I came to ride the train and it’s not here’. So we are super excited that we can now say the train is back and hopefully bring those visitors back to our area,” Carbon Chamber economic development director Kathy Henderson said.
The saga of on-again-off-again takes the latest turn back onto the tracks for the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern, as well as the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railways.
“We couldn’t be more excited that the train is coming back to town and it’s just an incredible asset to have here in the Pocono Mountains, especially now with the pandemic upon us,” Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau president/CEO Chris Barrett said.
The trains were originally stopped in fall of 2019 over a tax dispute with the borough. Many missing the scenic passenger and bike trains. It’s a big draw for tourists throughout the Poconos, pumping up the economy at a critical time.
“We’re seeing some guest counts that are down slightly. Having the train back is going to be an incredible boost for not only Jim Thorpe, but the Pocono Mountains, as well, so we’re incredibly excited about it,” Barrett said.
Tourists from across the country descend yearly onto this NEPA destination and while the train is a major draw, the wealth is spread.
“Because they don’t just come to ride the train. They come to eat in our restaurants, ride on the D&L Trail or whitewater raft and other things,” Henderson said.
“With about 150,000 to 200,000 people visiting and riding that train? It’s a 40-50 million dollar asset as far as economic spinoff and benefit, as we calculated it. There’s no question that the train is a game-changer,” Barrett said.
In the train’s absence, the community has come together to get by, but with bars, restaurants, and local retail taking the brunt of it…
“We haven’t really not seen an influx of tourism this year. People come from other cities to us because we’re outdoors. We don’t have a lot of population and so they feel safe to get away here,” Henderson said.
The hope is that with reopening and the return of the train, the local economy will get a boost. At the same time, at what cost? Thousands coming to the area is good for business, but could make it difficult to navigate COVID restrictions. The Pocono Visitors Bureau says from what they’ve seen there’s an understanding.
“Guests are very used to the fact now that they have to take responsibility to help mitigate and control the virus, themselves. We’re seeing that more and more throughout the Poconos and guests are also demanding that anywhere they visit,” Barrett said.
Whether visiting to escape or just taking a trip within the region for relaxation? There’s confidence.
“As long as everyone abides by the CDC rules and guidelines, wears their facemasks, keeps six feet apart and all the normal things that we’ve been accustomed to over the past couple of months and is just smart about it, I think we’ll be okay,” Henderson said.
With a staple of the Jim Thorpe, Carbon County, and Pocono Mountain community returning?
“I don’t want to say it’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train for a change, so it’ll be nice,” Henderson said.
Owner/CEO Andy Muller made the following statement,
“From our beginning in the railroad business in 1983 as the Blue Mountain & Reading, we have always been committed to our passenger service. That commitment is no less strong today than it was 37 years ago. Over the past year we have refurbished our equipment and worked on restoring a second steam locomotive. We are now ready to resume passenger service to and from Jim Thorpe. We have always worked well with the merchants in Jim Thorpe and we are pleased to do our part to help Jim Thorpe, Carbon County and the region bounce back from the impact of the virus on our communities. We believe now is the right time to bring the joy of passenger railroading back to northeast Pennsylvania. We will begin advertising and letting people know Jim Thorpe is open for business.”OWNER/CEO ANDY MULLER
The schedule for the reopening will be published on Wednesday, July 29th along with tickets going on sale, both on their website. The passenger department can be reached at (570)325-8485 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. for more information. Anyone who wants to follow the railroad can do so by finding them as “Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway” on Facebook.