Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Tourist train manager steaming

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Tourist train trips — rerouted to Mason this summer — will leave Lebanon permanently if the city doesn't get cracking on track repairs, the train manager said Monday.

        “It's way past when we should have been back,” said Guy Marino, manager of the Turtle Creek Valley Railway. “... If the city cannot expedite the process, we're going to look for someplace else.”

        And if the train leaves, he added, it won't return.

        The summer attraction had run from Lebanon through the Warren County countryside but moved when inspectors declared 4 miles of city-owned track unsafe early this year.

        The move was meant to be temporary; Lebanon officials, in fact, originally said the tracks might be repaired by mid-summer. However, Labor Day is history and the work has not yet gone to bid.

        That's largely because of all the state and federal hoops the city must jump through, Planning Director Marty Kohler said. Federal money is paying for 80 percent of the repairs, estimated at $300,000.

        The delay has been a blow not only to the railway but also to downtown shops.

        “It brought a lot of people to town, and it brought the right kind of people to town,” said Ken Haley, president of the Downtown Merchants Association. “They are younger and need furniture and gifts.”

        Some of Lebanon's antiques shops and other businesses were surprised to see a noticeable — and painful — drop in business this summer.

        “All of us operate on a rather slim margin,” Mr. Haley said.

        As for the railway, it aver aged 200 customers a weekend in Mason, Mr. Marino said, compared to more than 1,200 a weekend in Lebanon.

        More troubling than the financial losses, Mr. Marino said, has been not having the information he needs to run his business. “I can't go the rest of this year and planning next year with everything being in limbo.”

        Mr. Marino, who had hoped to return to Lebanon in time for the Santa trains, wants the repairs bid pronto. Until they are, he said, he won't sign an operating contract that City Council is set to approve tonight.

        The city is waiting for the state to approve the bid specifications, and then advertising for bids will take three weeks. Once started, the work will take about a month, Mr. Kohler said.

        City Manager James Patrick said it's too late to get the ad in the newspaper this week, but he expects to run it next week.

        “We're anxious to get started, too,” he said.


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- Tourist train manager steaming