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Great Smoky Mountains Railroad announces historic partnership with Swain County for revival of Steam

Steam will return!

BRYSON CITY –After much anticipation, Steam will be returning to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (GSMR) and Swain County, North Carolina!

The Swain County Board of Commissioners has committed, in unanimous agreement, to work with the railroad in this endeavor.  Beginning in April of 2012, by vote of the County Commissioners, overnight lodging taxes were raised to 4 cents, allocating the one cent increase to be set aside for future funding. These crucial steps set forth the plan of action to fund the return of Steam to the scenic railroad, in hopes to increase economic growth county wide.  A portion of the one cent increase will fund not only the renovation of steam locomotive # 1702 but will fund the construction of a locomotive turn table. Swain County will greatly benefit from the increase in tourism and job growth, even better this growth will not be funded at county tax payers’ expense, but from visitors to the county staying in hotels and lodging establishments.

The innovative and forward thinking Swain Board of Commissioners and County Manager, Kevin King is commendable. Such public/private partnerships of this magnitude are rarely heard of.

The development agreement states that Swain County agrees to loan up to $700,000 to GSMR, contingent upon certain terms and agreements.  Terms include reinstating steam service operations within 36 months, installing a turn table in down-town Bryson City, and creating 6 new full time jobs. Once all terms are met, the loan will become a grant. The agreement is also designed to insure that the railroad will remain an economic asset to Swain County, by allowing, should American Heritage Railways (AHR) choose to sell, the first opportunity to purchase the rail line.

It has been eight years since steam locomotive #1702 operated on the Murphy Branch Line and with this essential funding assistance provided by Swain County, it is expected to run again before the stated 24 months mark.  GSMR carries upwards of 180,000 passengers annually, with over half of its ridership accruing from guests who ride for  premier special events such as Dinosaur Train™, PEANUTS© Pumpkin Patch Express Train and the most popular, POLAR EXPRESS, which carried of 42,000 passengers to the North Pole in 2011.

With the return of steam operations, ridership on a daily train service to either the Nantahala Gorge or the town of Dillsboro, could increase as much as 20%. It is estimated that the overall economic impact, quickly followed by a “ripple effect”, would result in the creation of a conservative number of 20 new jobs. These jobs would be additional personnel needed in shops, restaurants, lodging accommodations and other businesses.

The Murphy Branch Line of Western North Carolina was completed in the late 1800’s tying the regions land locked mountains with the bustling industry of larger towns and developed cities. The mountainous and rugged landscape was well known and profitable for its logging, with many Shay locomotives operating on the line. The historical value of the railway and steam locomotive is tremendous asset to our region. Although #1702 operations did not originate on the historic Murphy Branch Line, it is the first scenic excursion steam engine to delight thousands of passengers since the creation of GSMR in 1991 continuing up to 2004.  Owner and CEO, Allen C. Harper is delighted by the announcement of this partnership saying, “Steam engine #1702 is part of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroads history and its return to service is the rebirth of a great tradition of steam powered trains to the region.  Enough cannot be said for Swain County’s creative approach and strong dedication to do economic development for the entire community.”


Proud member of the American Heritage Railways family. Visit our sister railroad in southwest Colorado at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

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