We’re doing everything we can to get the railroads to the people, Lynch | heraldrepublican

ANGOLA — Progress is being made with rail tourism in Steuben County.

Kelly Lynch, vice president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society Inc., gave a presentation at the Rotary Club of Angola meeting on Wednesday about the progress and opportunities for rail tourism in Steuben County.

“With a diesel, it’s a train. With a steam engine, it’s an event,” Lynch quoted Walt Disney during his speech.

Northeast Indiana in particular was a hub of connectivity in the early 20th century, Lynch said of the history of the railroad in Northeast Indiana.

Now turning the rest of the commuter rail system into a tourist attraction is becoming one of the ways to preserve a historic legacy.

Although the busiest railways were built in cities such as Fort Wayne, which was located almost at the central point between Chicago and the northeastern areas of the state, Angola and the surrounding areas were also part of those developments.

“You could get on a train in any town, in any city in this region and get to any other place in the country with relative ease,” Lynch said.

At some point it was so busy in Fort Wayne that the city had to raise the train tracks, twice out of the city streets, and that was a multi-million dollar project that took 100 trains a day off the city streets and the lifted 24 feet into the air, Lynch said.

In the postwar era, however, there was no further development of steam locomotives as a means of transportation, “and the railway had already begun to retire,” as Lynch put it, as it was becoming an outdated way of moving. stuff. and it wasn’t until recently that people began to realize that they could also honor that part of the national history.

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A few years ago, a group of Fort Wayne citizens in their 20s and 30s began an effort to restore one of the local rail operations, removing an existing old locomotive from the park and turning it into a tourist attraction.

“One of the few of its kind in the entire world, one in six in this country that gets those blanket references, and they created lightning in the bottle,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the initial group was also trying to build a connection to existing railroads, and that they were talking to the owners of the Indiana Northeastern Railroad, which is locally privately owned by a family of farmers, who saved the railroad 30 years ago. . and “it’s an incredible story of Hoosier entrepreneurship, risk-taking and modest determination,” Lynch said.

Now, the historic Lynch Railroad represents racing on tracks provided by the Indiana Northeastern Railroad, with the latter providing jobs for people in the area.

Lynch said they hope their tourist railway, which now operates less than 20 days a year, will increase its operations to 30-40 days in the next few years. The number of visitors to the attraction should increase from about 5,000 people a year to 15,000 and maybe more, Lynch estimated.

He said that while future plans are still in the exploration phase, they hope to extend the length of the rail season into November and December or even longer during the winter months, eventually bridging the gap between Labor Day and Memorial Day. .

“Our goal in entering the community is not just to repeat our past successes. We will make sure to offer something for everyone and in the future expand it,” said Lynch.

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Lynch said that for the community the railway presents not only a forgotten mode of transportation and a tourist attraction, but it can also be a space for events such as weddings, photo sessions and classes such as welding, machining and blacksmithing.

“We create an event in every town, every city,” Lynch said.

In terms of being a profitable business, Lynch said, the railroad could never compete with many places. However, the railway is not yet a profitable company, it could become one in the future.

Even now, when the company launched ticket sales for this year’s events, they received $87,000 in just 24 hours, and by the end of the year they hope to reach close to $300,000 even with less than 20 days of operation.

“So, it’s sustainable. It’s a good deal,” Lynch said.

Lynch is a native of Spencerville, a professional in the film industry and marketing. Lynch loves transportation and regional history, place-making and storytelling, and has long served as a consultant for redevelopment efforts in northeast Indiana, said Rotary Club President Colleen Everage.

“As a community, the train could be a great opportunity for everyone to enjoy,” he said.

Everage said the trains are the newest developing attraction, and are a great cultural and economic asset, and it was important to bring existing history and treasures to life to preserve the uniqueness of the community.

“We’re doing everything we can to make the railroads attractive to people who are interested in seeing this community prosper,” Lynch said.

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