Guilford County officials were hoping to have the kiddie train at Northeast Park up and running in time for the Christmas festivities at the park, but that is not to be once again this year.

In July, Guilford County sent the train – first approved for purchase in 2011 – off to California for repairs with an estimate from county staff that the train would be fixed and returned “within 90 days” and with the hope that the ride would be open to the public by the holiday season.

The really interesting thing about that is that that was July of 2017, not 2018, and the hope was that it would be up and running by Christmas of last year.  Now, it’s a year later and there is complete radio silence around the project – suggesting even Christmas 2019 isn’t something citizens should count on.  But that should be no surprise because the train has only run for a couple of weeks in the past seven years.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said recently that there had been no word on the train and Commissioner Jeff Phillips said this week that he hadn’t heard anything either.

Phillips was also very quick to point out that, in mid-2017 when county staff asked for more money to repair the train, he argued against the move.

“I didn’t vote for it,” Phillips said.

At that time, unlike the majority of the Board of Commissioners, Phillips basically said Guilford County needed to stop throwing good money after bad – and, the more time that goes by, the smarter Phillips’ vote looks.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of the kiddie train for the park in 2011.  The engine cost about $170,000 while the tracks cost nearly $200,000.  Over the years there have been so many attempts to fix the train and the tracks that it’s difficult to say exactly how much the county has put into the effort, but the best estimate based on available information is that that number is now over $600,000.

The last official word from Guilford County regarding the train was in the summer of this year when county staff stated the county had purchased a “like new” engine at a big discount, that the cars had been repaired in California and the train had to be “calibrated” with the tracks, followed by load tests.

The end of 2018 means the seventh year in which Guilford County has tried unsuccessfully to get a kiddie train running at the park.  For nearly all of that time, the train has sat idle in a storage shed at Northeast Park. It did miraculously run a few weeks in December 2015 during the park’s Country Lights Aglow festival and, at that time, it was enjoyed by kids and adults alike – until it broke down again right after that.

It now looks as though that brief period of operation should be written off as a one-time Christmas miracle rather than a promise of things to come.