Revival of bankrupt train line hoped for Would-be bidder has plans for service

October 26, 1995|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

One prospective bidder for the bankrupt EnterTRAINment Line hopes to reopen the railway service, which operated weekly dinner trains and holiday excursions from Westminster and Union Bridge until it was derailed by financial problems.

The line closed in May. It owes about $300,000 in back amusement taxes, interest and penalties, plus payments to Maryland Midland Railway for use of its locomotives and tracks and a $130,000 loan from New Windsor Bank. Creditors include groups and individuals whose deposit checks were cashed, but whose scheduled rides were canceled by the closing.

The line's assets, mostly rail cars and related equipment, are scheduled to be sold at public auction Nov. 29.

Ken Bitten, a Clifton, N.J., consultant and president of a luxury rail car service, said he is "specifically interested in starting the train back up in a new and improved form."

Mr. Bitten said he would run holiday train rides and scenic excursions through the countryside, as EnterTRAINment did.

He plans to add a luxury rail service with table linens and gourmet meals served by waiters in tuxedos. His current business, Classic Rail Cars Inc., rents similar cars that can be added to Amtrak trains for luxury train trips.

Mr. Bitten is the only prospective buyer who has approached the mayors of Westminster and Union Bridge to talk about getting a break in the back amusement taxes owed by the defunct line.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said the city is "not about to abolish this tax," although he and the City Council plan a meeting with Mr. Bitten.

Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones said he thinks the town is "receptive to working out something for the future."

Mr. Yowan said he would like to see the excursion line reopen, but Westminster derives about $250,000 a year in amusement tax income.

If the city abolished the tax, the council would have to levy a 6-cent increase in property taxes to make up the difference, Mr. Yowan said.

Union Bridge receives only about $20,000 in annual revenues from the tax.

"I'm very concerned about the taxation issue, and I want to have a dialogue with Westminster about it, but to say [buying and reopening the line] is contingent on that is probably overstating," Mr. Bitten said.

EnterTRAINment Line owners Donald S. Golec and Steven Hamilton unsuccessfully fought the amusement tax in Maryland Tax Court.

Mr. Golec also lobbied the Westminster council, arguing that his was a transportation service, not an amusement, and therefore should be exempt from the tax.

In 1994, its last full year of operation, the EnterTRAINment Line brought an estimated 35,000 visitors to Carroll County.

Paul Denton, president of Maryland Midland Railway, was out of town on a business trip yesterday and could not be reached.

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