Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

All aboard for a Leisurely Ride through St. Marys' History; the St. Marys Railway Is Now Open to Customers after Completing Months of Restoration

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

All aboard for a Leisurely Ride through St. Marys' History; the St. Marys Railway Is Now Open to Customers after Completing Months of Restoration

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

ST. MARYS -- It is capable of speeds in excess of 80 mph, but a leisurely speed closer to single digits is just fine for passengers taking a new tourist-related train service from Kingsland to St. Marys.

Though the St. Marys Railway is still renovating the outside of the vintage 72-passenger coach, built in 1951, and musical entertainment won't begin for a few days, paying customers are being accepted for the 65-minute, 10-mile ride from Kingsland to St. Marys.

Railway officials said they began accepting paying customers because of the interest in riding the train, which is hauled by a restored F3-A locomotive, built in December 1946.

Friday's passengers included first-time train rider Freddie Bellamy of Livonia, who wanted to learn more about the area by taking the scenic ride to one of the nation's oldest cities.

"Any time you go on a tour, you get an insight to the area," Bellamy said.

Train car host Joey Williams greeted passengers by explaining the history of train service from Kingsland to St. Marys for the past 100 years, when sawmills and the paper industry flourished. He gave details about the city's history, dating to the 1500s, when French and Spanish settlers lived in what is now St. Marys, making it the second-oldest city in the nation.

The ride in the passenger car included two stops to look at a canopy of live oak trees and the saltwater marshes. Williams told passengers about the wildlife, such as ospreys, black bears, otters and deer.

The tides in the saltwater marshes along the St. Marys River, he explained, rise as much as 9 feet, making them the strongest on the Atlantic seaboard south of Cape Cod.

Paul Pleasant, the train's conductor, explained the operation of the locomotive's V-12 diesel-electric engine. "We've got a lot of history in our equipment, here," he said.

It took railway workers seven months to restore the locomotive, which had previously been used to haul freight, then passengers, and now tourists.

Richard Long had retired after 40 years as a train engineer, but was lured back to work.

"I'm very familiar with these," Long said. …

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