RHINO TIMES | Thursday, December 21, 2017 | www.rhinotimes.com
by Scott D. Yost
All Guilford County wanted for Christmas
was to have its kiddie train up and running
at Northeast Park, but the county’s not
going to get that.
In July, Guilford County sent the train to California
to be fixed “within 90 days,” a timeline that would
have brought the repaired train back home by
October. However, the county’s seemingly jinxed
kiddie train is still on the West Coast, some 2,200
miles away, and now it looks like there’s no saving
the train’s engine, which has become known as the
Little Engine that Couldn’t.
The kiddie train’s cars are reportedly being
repaired in California, but the county may buy a new
engine at a greatly discounted price. Officials now
hope to get the attraction open at Northeast Park in
early 2018, but only a madman with no knowledge of
the train’s long problem-filled history would put any
money down on that bet.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners
approved the purchase of the kiddie train for the
park in 2011. The engine cost about $170,000 while
the tracks ran nearly $200,000. Over the years there
have been so many attempts to fix the train and the
tracks that it’s difficult to say exactly how much the
county has put into the effort, but the best estimate
based on available information is that that number is
over a half million dollars.
However, in the last six years, the train has never
run for any length of time, and for nearly all of that
six years, the train has sat idle in a storage shed
at the park. It did miraculously run a few weeks in
December 2015 during the park’s Country Lights
Aglow and, at that time, it was enjoyed a great deal
by kids and adults alike – until it broke down again
Earlier this year, county officials were hoping the
train would be running at the park by this Christmas
season, but that’s not going to happen. County
officials are still hoping to eventually get the train
operational without spending any more than the
$63,000 in new money the county allocated in April
2017 to fix it, but an evaluation of the train track at
Northeast Park has shown it will need more extensive
repair than anticipated – even though that track was
built only five years ago and has hardly been used.
In addition, state inspectors are now saying that
Guilford County must build a fence around the
attraction before it will pass inspection. The fence
will cost about $10,000 according to preliminary
estimates. It’s likely Guilford County will buy a new
engine for the train, which it expects to get for the
greatly discounted price of $10,000.
Earlier this year, when the Board of Commissioners
voted to spend the $63,000 to save the choo-choo
that’s been the source of major headaches for years,
it was estimated that fixing the track would cost about
$16,000 and engine repairs would be about $47,000.
At that time, Guilford County chose Diesel Engine
and Heavy Equipment Repair of Burlington to repair
the train. However, when Diesel Engine contacted
Katiland Trains – the California-based company that
sold the train to the county and now operates under
the name Western Train Co.– Western offered to
come get the train, repair it at no charge and return
it to Guilford County in running condition within 90
That July offer by Western Train had many
Guilford County officials scratching their heads,
since the county has had an ongoing dispute with
the company over the train for years.
That 90-day mark has come and gone, but now
the commissioners have an offer on the table to buy
a new engine for about $10,000. Western would
repair the train cars, provide the new engine and
return the train to Guilford County. That’s the plan
Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property
Management Director Robert McNiece said this
week that Guilford County is likely to get the new
engine to replace the old one since the county would
be getting such a good price.
“They’re giving us a 2015 engine that’s never
been run for $10,000,” McNiece said, adding that
that same engine would ordinarily cost “well in
excess of $100,000.”
McNiece said the California company is repairing
the train’s cars. Though those cars have hardly
been used, there are issues with them coming off
the train track.
Then there’s the fence. County officials said
that, originally, state inspectors didn’t require that
Northeast Park attraction to have a fence, but once
the train gets back they will. One source said state
officials indicated that the train attraction at Northeast
Park should have been required to have a fence all
along, but an oversight by an inspector allowed the
ride to be permitted without that.
The good news is that the projected costs
combined aren’t expected to cost any more than
the $63,000. The commissioners are likely to vote
to purchase a new engine at the discounted price at
their next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of
Commissioners Alan Branson represents much
of northeastern Guilford County, where the kiddie
train has sat idle for years. In July, when the train
company offered to take the train and fix it for free,
Branson said it sounded suspiciously too good to
be true, but he also said at that time that just about
anything was worth a shot when it comes to the train.
Now that the 90-day period has come and gone, he’s
sounding a little more wary and he said the track is
in bad condition.
Branson also said he was alarmed at the rate of
demise of the train track at the park.
“The ties have rotted and need to be replaced,”
Branson said. “I was surprised to see that treated
material decay so fast.”
He said he believed that, within 30 to 45 days of
the commissioners’ decision regarding the engine,
the train could be up and running.
Branson, who once called the train situation a
“damn nightmare,” was just elected chairman of the
board. When asked if could guarantee that, by the
end of his first term as chairman in December 2018,
the long sought after kiddie train at Northeast Park
would be up and running, he said he could not.
“I wouldn’t say that for love or money,” Branson
He added that the fence that state inspectors
are now requiring is a new issue that has to be
“They have some rosebushes around it to keep
the kids out, but I think the fear is that, with kids
playing in the area, they might throw a ball in there
and then go on the tracks if there’s not a fence
there,” the chairman said.
It’s also interesting to contrast the experience of
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