Train passengers catch glimpse of Sykesville Trade: Town officials hope to use the railroad to attract more visitors and improve trade.

October 18, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The town that wants to trade on its river and railroad just went through a weekend of training.

After 25 years, passenger trains returned to Sykesville this weekend. Nobody got off, but riders on excursions en route to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., got a look at the town of 3,500.

"I really wanted to get on, but I got to wave," said 5-year-old Allison Dearie, who watched the train go by yesterday from the deck of Baldwin's Restaurant, once the town train station.

Sykesville, which would like passengers to stop and visit next time, was more than ready to show its stuff.

"We are trying to treat them like they were the president rolling through," said Stewart Dearie, Baldwin's owner and Allison's father.

The restaurant was decorated with patriotic red, white and blue banners. Welcome signs were mounted near the tracks. Members of the South Carroll High School, decked out in their uniforms, played marches, and town officials waved from the platform. A crowd of about 50 people waited nearly an hour, peering down the tracks.

The train whistle sounded as its cars rounded the bend under Route 32. It took only fleeting minutes for the trains to pass by the old rail station and Main Street, where a restored caboose houses a model railroad collection. The band had hardly finished playing its fight song when the train whistled its farewell.

Still, Stewart Dearie thought the brief visit was worth the hoopla. "People on the train noticed," he said. "They were smiling and waving to us from the windows."

Excursions yesterday and today are traveling along the Old Main Line built in 1828, one of the oldest railways in the country and the original route west to Ohio.

About 800 passengers rode through yesterday and another 800 are expected to roll through today and get a glance at Sykesville.

A stop in a town along the way is possible, but will take planning, said train organizers. Sykesville has one advantage: The station is still there. But, it will have to do some enticing of its own.

"We have to zero in on how to make Sykesville more what Harpers Ferry is all about," said Dearie. "Excursions can happen here, but Sykesville needs more retail and we have to find people other things to do."

The Washington Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, has been running excursions for 50 years, but has not used the Old Main Line since 1972. It sponsored this weekend's Autumn Colors Express, selling out 10 cars soon after announcing the trip.

"The response was phenomenal; we're sold out," said Kevin J. Tankersley, chapter president. "We haven't taken this long, scenic route since the early '70s. It really appeals to John Q. Public and the romantic idea of train travel."

When Tankersley learned of the town's interest, he said a stop might be possible.

Passenger trains can be a boon to their destinations. Riders stay several hours, visiting restaurants, shops and museums.

"There is vast interest in railroading," said Dearie. "It is part of our heritage. People really want to take a ride and get the feel of a train."

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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