No plans for return of Kiski Junction Railroad's scenic train excursions
It’s still the end of the line for Kiski Junction Railroad.
The popular scenic tourist train rides offered since 1996 from Schenley Station in Gilpin Township remains closed since 2016, after a successful season, but have yet to reopen, according to Rosebud Mining sales manager Barrett Sparks. Rosebud Mining headquartered in Kittanning purchased the railroad in 2006.
“It closed because the coal mine it was serving was idle due to core pricing for thermal coal, so we couldn’t justify keeping the mine open,” Sparks says.
The short line along the Allegheny River transported materials for decades from Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s (ATI) Bagdad plant (now closed) in Gilpin and coal from Rosebud’s Logansport mine located in Bethel Township.
“We offered the train rides as something for the community — to be a good neighbor,” Sparks says.
KJR’s tourist season operated from June through October, with special holiday themed rides offered.
More than a dozen volunteers who included ticket agents, car hosts and engineers say they weren’t given a specific reason for the closing.
“I am sad to see it close. I wasn’t given a reason. The word got out about our train rides and we had people visit from all over — Canada, Europe and even Australia,” says Schenley resident and longtime volunteer Beverly Bish. “I miss it. It was my thing (volunteering).”
Gilpin Township supervisor Charlie Stull echoes Bish’s thoughts. “I’m saddened to be losing the unique and fun recreational tours,” Stull says. “I knew they had taken at least a year off, but I was unaware they were completely closed.”
Sparks emphasizes the Schenley tracks are kept in good order.
“We keep it well maintained and we want it ready to go if the market shifts,” Sparks says.
Riders still show up
Past seasonal train ride tours included one-two hour fall foliage tour and Christmas themed tours. “They always sold out,” Bish says. “We still have people showing up here in Schenley expecting to take a train ride.”
A recent visit to Schenley Station revealed a closed up facility devoid of any signage closing/information for visitors seeking a train ride.
The website for Kiski Junction Railroad offers one sentence explaining the closure: “We are sorry, but we will be closed for Tourist Excursions until further notice.”
A shiny red classic diesel switch locomotive rests vacant on a side track. Local residents are disappointed to lose the only passenger train ride option in Southwestern Pa.
“It is sad for me to see the rides end because it brought many families together for an hour and a half,” says former KJR volunteer Angela Vigna of Leechburg. “The train would draw hundreds of people daily to ride during those fall leaf foliage rides.”
Vigna resides near the train station and notes she has logged more than 75 KJR rides.
“The train rides here hold a lot of memories for the Vigna family,” she says.
Sparks maintains the public shouldn’t give up hope for KJR’s re-openingin the future.
“The track is being maintained and it is certainly not closed indefinitely,” Sparks says. “The hope is that the domestic demand for thermal coal comes back and we are able to fire up the Kiski Junction again.”
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.