The Guilford County kiddie train that was purchased in 2011 as an attraction for Northeast Park – but only ran for a few weeks of the seven years that followed – is now headed to that giant scrapheap in the sky.
Actually, it’s headed for a scrapheap somewhere in California, but, regardless, after years of problems that no one was able to fix, the engine known as the Little Engine That Couldn’t has finally chugged its last chug. Guilford County, which remains determined to get a train ride up and running at Northeast Park, is instead purchasing a “like new” 2015 engine for $10,000 – a heavily discounted price. County officials say the 2015 engine would normally cost about $150,000.
The hope is that moving on to a new engine, along with track repairs at Northeast Park, will finally result in a train attraction that park visitors can enjoy.
In July 2016, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted reluctantly to spend $63,000 to save the troubled train. At that time, it was estimated that fixing the train track at Northeast Park would cost about $16,000 and engine repairs would run about $47,000. Guilford County chose Diesel Engine and Heavy Equipment of Burlington to fix the train. However, when Diesel Engine contacted Katiland Trains – the California-based company that sold the train to the county and now operates under the name Western Train Co. – Western offered to come get the train, repair it at no charge and return it to Guilford County in running condition within 90 days, which meant the train should have been back by November 2017.
The county has been waiting on the return of the engine and cars ever since. However, now Guilford County will be receiving the new engine instead. The $10,000 needed to purchase the new engine was available since the county didn’t have to spend much of the $47,000 originally approved for the train repair.
Once the good-as-new train arrives, there’s still the question of the tracks, which have been another part of the problem at the park. The county will begin repair on the tracks once the new train is delivered. Given the history of the project, no one in Guilford County government is willing to predict when the ride will finally be up and running, but the track repair work is expected to take about 60 days and, if everything goes well – a huge if – children could be enjoying the wind in their hair from open car train rides on the Fourth of July weekend. Or, of course, maybe not.
State inspectors have also decided the county must build a fence around the tracks. In previous years, that wasn’t mentioned by state inspectors but county officials said state inspectors now say that was an oversight before and the fence must be added for safety. That will add to the cost of getting the new train up and running, but that cost – like the cost of buying the engine – should be covered by the $63,000 approved by the commissioners last year for train and track repairs.
Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Robert McNiece, when asked the project’s current status, said he feels it’s now moving along as it should.
“I’m confident we’re making progress on finally resolving the train issue,” McNiece said.
Commissioner Hank Henning said the last report he had heard on the train was that “It’s on the way,” and he just wants the issue resolved.
“I’m so sick of being asked about that train,” Henning said.
He said the only good think to say about the train being sent to California was that the company had agreed to make the repairs at no charge, which let the taxpayers off the hook, even if that plan didn’t work in the end.
Still, the kiddie train has cost county taxpayers plenty.
In 2011, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to purchase the train that initially cost county taxpayers $370,000. The engine and cars cost about $170,000, while the track cost roughly $200,000. Back then, Guilford County held a competitive bid process and bought a new Katiland C.P Huntington train – with the hope and expectation at the time of purchase that it would be up and running in 2012.
Including the cost of the train, the tracks, seven years of consultants and attempted fixes, it has cost over a half million dollars to get a kiddie train operational at the park – something that, seven years after the Board of Commissioners first approved the project, still hasn’t happened.
It was a very popular ride during the train’s very brief life running in December 2015. When Northeast Park held a holiday celebration just before Christmas that year, many kids rode the train and were delighted by it. While the train worked that one time, it’s anyone’s guess if this attempt will be a charm and the train will finally be running in 2018.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said he’ll believe the county can get a train running at the park when he sees it, but certainly not before.
“I think the kids will see the train – in a museum,” the sheriff said.