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Audit of Scenic Railroad reveals plenty of problems

August 10th, 2019 by WCBC Radio

The conclusion of a performance audit of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is that  there are any  number of serious issues  that need to be addressed in short order- some serious enough that if not resolved the  tourist train could be forced to shut down operations.  Pennsylvania based Stone Consulting was retained by Allegany County in the summer of 2018 to conduct a performance audit of the railroad operation. The request came after repeated failed attempts to bring a restored steam engine online; equipment and track issues; a major theft by a former employee; and a continued reliance on county  funds to maintain operations. The report, obtained by WCBC News Friday,  concluded that despite  some initial perceptions, the reputed issues of the 1309 program appear to now be under the best recovery plan rather than the worst, and has managed to turn into some positive news at the time the report was completed. However, the focus on the steam program has effectively masked more serious issues that impact the entire excursion program more than getting a steam locomotive operating again for the 2019 season. The report suggests that it appears the current management plan is completely centered around an expected ridership boost from the restored steam engine- but that is far from guaranteed.  In addition, there are issues of  steadily deteriorating track and right-of-way conditions, standard coach experience factors and resulting declining coach ridership. Developing landslide areas alongside the trail, need to be addressed before the crisis stage fully emerges, which is described as  inevitable given the developing evidence the firm experienced  firsthand.  There were also concerns expressed about the financial accounting- noting that written statements of the railroad’s accounting firm appear to  be more concealing than revealing- with a lack of clear language.  The audit concludes with the opinion that there is a leaner and smaller management operation now in place- and the absence of a volunteer base can be addressed if the steam engine debuts next year- leading to the expected increase in public and rider interest. If all parties are prepared for that scenario- the entire equation of  donations, volunteers, and bottom-line performance should provide a  roughly a two year window of re-newed interest in the Scenic Railroad- with a chance to build momentum and establish a solid tourist attraction for the region.

10 Responses to “Audit of Scenic Railroad reveals plenty of problems”

  1. August 10, 2019 at 11:10 am, kevin said:

    So, as usual, we will be using the popular “It better work” theory rather than reality, going forward. Maybe if we just sacrifice a bridge or two it will all work out, or failing that, eliminate a year or two of high school. It’s not like anyone really needs those extra years do they?


  2. August 10, 2019 at 12:40 pm, mac said:

    After this all local governments should withhold any further monies until this thing can be proven to operate. Mentioning a lack of volunteers means everyone involved is drawing a salary. Make them work for their paycheck and not expect to be bailed out yet again.


  3. August 10, 2019 at 4:44 pm, M.E.SINGER said:

    Amazing to see a state undertake such a determined forensic audit on a tourist rail line that is far more intensive than has ever been conducted by states outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) paying Amtrak for their corridor trains. Such an audit would discover:
    1) How Amtrak’s full cost allocation to states is non-GAAP compliant by shifting costs from the NEC into this allocation.
    2) How Amtrak refuses to acknowledge their are only incremental costs when increasing frequencies.
    3) How the excessive charge by Amtrak to state-supported trains is used to subsidize the intercity Amtrak trains running on the NEC; at no charge to those state on the NEC.


  4. August 10, 2019 at 7:04 pm, Joseph said:

    there is your tax $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


    • August 10, 2019 at 7:05 pm, Joseph said:

      your tax $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


  5. August 11, 2019 at 4:12 am, Mark said:

    Another corrupt program that needs to die. And where are ALL the right wingers decrying this ‘socialist’ waste of tax money??? Oh, that’s right, ‘socialism’ for the well connected & business is OK, you just can’t spend tax money that helps the average working slob-that’s evil ‘socialism’. smh


  6. August 12, 2019 at 4:29 pm, Chuck said:

    This report reveals what many have known for some time. Prior to Mr Gardner coming to WMSRR ridership was over 600 per train on a Saturday. One of his early actions was to raise the ticket prices making it even more expensive for a family. He moved the web site and ticket order processing away from Willets Systems to a more expensive vendor. He has constantly blamed others, made excusses and has never taken responsibility for any of his own decisions. He can argue that the problem is no steam, but the Potomac Eagle is running FULL trains and they have never had steam. WMSRR has developed a bad reputation for not being forth coming when the train was not running all the way to Frostburg due to the landslide. Customers were not told in advance of arrival and the price for the ticket was not reduced. Many felt there was a level of dishonesty involved. The way the WMSRR has been mismanaged has reflected poorly on our entire community. Two things need to happen to correct the direction of the organization. First, Mr Gardner needs to resign or be removed from employment with WMSRR and second, the members of the Board of Trustees need to resign and new Trustees appointed. The Board is equally culpable for the poor management as they are supposed to be the overseers of the organization.
    I believe the train attraction can be a huge positive impact for our area but the current leadership needs to be replaced.


    • August 20, 2019 at 11:10 am, Dutch said:

      > “Dishonesty” and perceived overall lack of integrity tarnished the railroad’s public image, their most valuable asset. Oh, and the horror of being trapped in a railcar with drama people performing over-the-top flamboyant murder mystery skits practically in one’s lap.


  7. August 13, 2019 at 3:25 pm, Dave said:

    I am among those who will return to the WMSR when 1309 is ready. In the past I made a small donation to the project. Thank you for the audit which will pressure the WMSR toward efficiency and transparency.


  8. August 13, 2019 at 4:21 pm, Jason sobczynski said:

    Failed? Really? That is a wholly uninformed perspective.


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