Monday, October 20, 2014

Dinner train chugging toward county with outgoing lawmaker on board

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer | 1/9/2013

There’s light at the end of the tunnel for an area business venture.

The Kansas Belle Dinner Train has received the OK it needs to begin operation later this month. The Franklin County Board of Commissioners approved 3-0 Wednesday a special-use permit for the train’s journey in Franklin County. Train services are expected to begin Jan. 26.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel for an area business venture.

The Kansas Belle Dinner Train has received the OK it needs to begin operation later this month. The Franklin County Board of Commissioners approved 3-0 Wednesday a special-use permit for the train’s journey in Franklin County. Train services are expected to begin Jan. 26.

This train, operated by Midland Railway, 1515 High St., Baldwin City, presents a unique opportunity for customers and area businesses, outgoing state Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, said. Gregory, who took a job at Midland Rail in October following her defeat in August’s Republican primary, lauded the train’s job-creating potential.

“We’re very excited,” she said after the board’s meeting Wednesday. “The Kansas Belle Dinner Train has already hired or given financial benefit to more than 100 people or companies just in moving here and getting set up.

“It’s going to be a boom to this area.”

 Approval from the board signifies one of the last few steps necessary to begin operation of the 22-mile, six-passenger-car dinner train that runs in both Franklin and Douglas counties, Gregory said. The Douglas County board approved the special-use permit with little discussion, Gregory said.

While in the Kansas Legislature last year, Gregory championed the Dinner Railcar Liquor License bill, which eventually allowed the dinner train to become a reality in Kansas. Existing state law had outlawed the serving of alcohol on railway cars, which would have affected the company’s dinner options.

“There was a discrimination against moving restaurants, so my bill equalized that. That opened the door for the Kansas Belle Dinner Train to move here in October,” Gregory said.

Property owners along the railroad’s right-of-way for Midland Rail’s route, which extends southwest from the Douglas/Franklin county line, about two miles east of Old U.S. 59, to the Ottawa junction south of Pawnee Road, were notified of the railroad’s request. During a county planning commission meeting in December, there was little opposition to granting the permit, Larry Walrod, county planning and building director, said.

“This is perhaps the first special-use permit we’ve had filed, at least in the 13 years I’ve been here, that isn’t on a specific location,” Walrod said. “It’s only specific as being on the rail, but it will be moving up and down the rail.”

The law change associated with the Dinner Railcar Liquor License bill specified that counties address the serving of alcohol on train’s dining cars on a case-by-case basis, Walrod said.

Many property owners, Walrod said, indicated they were in favor of the dinner car passing through Franklin County.

Gene Hirt, Williamsburg, spoke during public comment of the county meeting, expressing his support for the permit’s approval, as well as for the dinner car.

“I’ve rode on that train before, it’s a delightful ride and I remember, we need something like this for dining cars again,” Hirt said. “I think this is wonderful. And I again think that it will bring more people and interest in this.”

Commissioners, likewise, expressed their high hopes for the future of the dinner train before passing the measure.

“I think it’s a good business opportunity and hopefully it will bring in more interest in our area and be a good thing,” Commissioner Steve Harris said before voting in favor of granting the permit.

The dinner train is intended to nostalgically transport passengers back to the heyday of rail travel in the 1940s, featuring music from the era and also theatrics reminiscent of the period. In addition to fine dining, the train is expected to feature a theater series — including murder mysteries, melodramas and perhaps train robberies — for passengers’ enjoyment. Tickets for the train are expected to be about $60.

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