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For AVL-HVL passenger rail to profit, entertainment urged
Sunday, 11 February 2018 12:01

From Staff Reports

Train enthusiast Larry Morton continues to advocate for passenger rail between Hendersonville and Asheville, but exactly what that means continues to evolve. 

Morton has been on a crusade, making presentations to local groups to drum up interest in the idea, and he says to date he has only had positive responses.

 In order for the prospect to be fiscally viable, though, it needs a competitive edge. For instance, a commuter train could not be run because the track proposes to use does not allow passenger cars to travel faster than 30 mph. What’s more, the first run of the day would probably be too late for commuters; and the last one, too early.

Morton could not exactly offer scenic tours, either, as the track runs along the backside of commercial buildings for most of the route. 

In the latest twist, he has unveiled the idea of offering entertainment rides. The car — or cars — could be rolling diners, for example; and maybe even cabarets at night. They could also be event venues for birthdays, weddings and corporate teambuilding, Morton said.

Morton said excitement about the venture ramped up when he started talking about passenger excursions. One man in Jonesborough, Tenn., even offered him “the perfect car,” according to a report in the Hendersonville Lightning.

Morton said he has held discussions with five excursion rail providers, one of which was the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, and all are very popular, doing well financially, and willing to coach Morton in this endeavor.

While he visits various civic groups to drum up interest, Morton saidhe has not given much thought to what income and expenses will look like. 

Darl Faris, general manager of the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, which now runs the track, told the Lightning that Morton would have to be able to convince the home office he can run his operation at a 30 percent profit before he could start using the tracks.

Morton said ideally Blue Ridge Southern would take over the project. The firm owns the tracks, so a lease agreement would not  be necessary. Also, it has a dispatcher and locomotives. 

Another option would be to buy a parlor car and contract with Blue Ridge Southern to link it to their locomotives.

The third option would be to purchase the car and a locomotive as well as rights to use the track. Morton said he does not know how much Blue Ridge Southern would charge for any of this.

As of his last Lightning interview, Morton envisioned running excursions in the morning and early afternoon. The route would probably run between Biltmore Village in Asheville and the Historic Seventh Avenue District in Hendersonville. 

The tracks are only used occasionally during the daytime to bring a load of coal to the Duke Energy Progress plant at Lake Julian. Kimberly Clark is the only other party using the tracks, and its trains use the track only at night.



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