The owner of the rail line — Utah-based EnergySolutions — said Thursday it will no longer allow passenger traffic because of liability concerns. The change is effective May 31.
For the past seven years, EnergySolutions has allowed the Southern Appalachian Railroad Museum, a nonprofit entity that sponsors the Secret City Excursions, to use the Heritage Railroad short line at no cost.
However, in a statement released Thursday, John Christian, the president of EnergySolutions Logistics, Processing and Services, said the company had recently reassessed its business and made the decision to suspend passenger services on the rail line.
EnergySolutions has a radioactive-waste processing center in Oak Ridge, and the company uses the short line as a connector to ship wastes by rail to its landfill at Clive, Utah. EnergySolutions company is based in Salt Lake City.
“The primary use of the Heritage Railroad is to transport cargo and not intended as a passenger line,” Christian said. “While passengers have safely enjoyed the use of this rail line we have evaluated the use of the line for anything other than cargo and determined we should discontinue transporting passengers on the railroad.”
Scott Lindsey, president of the Southern Appalachian Railroad Museum, was unavailable for comment. The group’s board of directors was reportedly scheduled to meet Thursday evening to discuss the situation.
As of Thursday afternoon, a volunteer was still taking reservations for rail trips on the first three Saturdays in June.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said he understood the EnergySolutions decision.
“On a pure tourism standpoint, we’re disappointed about losing a tourist attraction that addressed of number of visitor needs in our community,” Watson said. “But we also have to look ahead at some of the exciting economic development activities that may be happening out there (at East Tennessee Technology Park).”
The Department of Energy site is being cleaned up and converted to a private industrial park.
Lawrence Young, the president of the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, said the decision was disappointing but understandable from a business standpoint. CROET coordinates redevelopment of the site and has also supported the railroad excursions.
“It’s unfortunate,” Young said Thursday.
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