Efforts continue to save the historic Stewartstown Railroad.

Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, an independent group, is pursuing its fund raising effort that began in 2009.

More recently, the railroad company has expanded that effort to PayPal, in its efforts to use the magic of the Internet to save the 128-year-old railroad.

In addition, a group is being formed to loan money to the railroad, loans that would be secured by its assets. The idea would be to allow the company at least five years to begin showing a profit.

"We are just starting to get our feet under us, but we need money to pay off the lien. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the train is being driven by the Buck's County Historical Society," railroad board member Ken Bitten said.

The late, George M. Hart, the former president of the railroad, loaned the company $325,415 to keep operating. The lien on the property for that amount is held by Hart's estate, and his heir, the historical society, wants its money, Bitten said.

The railroad thought the loans were gifts, and it didn't learn until Hart's death that the money must be repaid.

"The historical society has been very aggressive in seeking foreclosure by the estate," Bitten said.

The estate filed an application in July 2011, with the federal Surface Transportation Board to seek abandonment of the line. It's a step the estate needs so that it can foreclose on the railroad to collect the debt.

Both parties had expected a decision last year, but to date, the federal board has not ruled.

The railroad company cannot borrow money to pay off the lien because it does not have income, so the efforts to raise money through contributions or loans continue as the only way to save the rail line, Bitten said.

Brian Bachman helps Eric Bickleman, left, balance as they try to remove beams from the railroad tracks in Stewartstown.
Brian Bachman helps Eric Bickleman, left, balance as they try to remove beams from the railroad tracks in Stewartstown. (YORK DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS--JASON PLOTKIN)

He estimates the assets of the railroad company, including the properties in Stewartstown and Hungerford, now part of Shrewsbury, where the stations are located, as well as the rails, the cars, the locomotives, and other holdings at $1 million.

Volunteers recently repaired the roofs of two historic stations and are continuing to repair the track. Work on the locomotives and passenger cars continues, in the hope of running full-size trains in the near future, he said.

Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad has raised about $15,000 through its fundraising efforts, said Ray Reter, president of the group.

The goal is to get at least a short excursion train -- a locomotive and passenger cars -- running again to "generate some significant revenue so the railroad can pay off its bills," Reter said.

Donations made to the Friends group are tax deductible. Those made to the railroad company are not.

It has been hard to get donations in light of the economy. Some people give $10 or $15 and apologize that they can't give more, Reter said.

"We're thankful for all the gifts we get," he said.

Staff writer Teresa Boeckel added to this report.

About the railroad

The Stewartstown Railroad was chartered in 1885 to provide freight and passenger service to the Northern Central Railway at New Freedom.

It stretched 7.4 miles and crossed several bridges, some of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

It carried passengers, fresh fruits and vegetables and other produce from local farms and orchards and locally manufactured items and was known as the "farmer's railroad."

It has been out of service since 2004.

The Stewartstown and Shrewsbury Railroad Station, the Stewartstown engine house, and the Deer Creek, Ridge Road, Stone Arch Road and Valley Road Bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Go here for more information on how to contribute using PayPal.

Source: Stewartstown Railroad

Open house Sunday

The Stewartstown Railroad will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the train station along Route 851.

Also of interest

Changing Stewartstown 'one of the most attractive boroughs.'

What it was like aboard Southeastern York County's Stewartstown Railroad