City sponsors railroad grant
A sometimes rocky relationship with Midland Railway was brought up, but did not prevent the Baldwin City Council from sponsoring a grant application that would pay for $230,000 of improvements around the depot.
The Santa Fe Trail Historic Society and the Midland Railway are partnering on the project that includes expanding the platform around the depot, adding period lighting, refurbishing track around the depot area, constructing a gravel pedestrian path, restoring some of the buildings near the depot, planting native grasses and closing the south end of the parking lot to through traffic.
Mike Fox, president of the Midland Railway Historical Association, said the TEA21 grant is similar to the ISTEA grants used to improve the tracks to Norwood, and is funding a future track improvement further south.
Fox said the proposed project would give visitors a more authentic experience, with more to see and do. The project has to be sponsored by a tax-collecting entity, such as the city.
"The ridership has been growing," Fox said. "What this project would do is put the icing on the cake. The idea is to create a historic area. If someone arrives too early or just misses the train, they could walk around these areas."
The historical society would help the Midland Railway expand and rehabilitate the brick platform around the depot.
Buildings the railway would like to restore include two coal sheds, lumberyard and an old Standard Oil building.
"It will really improve the experience for those who come to Baldwin," Fox said.
Fox said the buildings would have to be listed on the Kansas Register of Historic Place to receive TEA21 grant money. He was not sure if the buildings would qualify for the register.
"There is a possibility that part of the project will not be funded," Fox said.
Fox said the historic and scenic aspects of the project should improve the railway's chances of receiving the grant. Midland also is planning to contribute 25 percent matching funds 5 percent more than is required.
Ted Brecheisen Jr., who voted against sponsoring the grant application, said the city has received complaints about unnecessary blowing of the train whistle. He also said the city issued Midland a citation for not cleaning up weeds and dirt piles as directed by city officials.
"They are coming to us for help, are they helping us?" Brecheisen asked.
City inspector Jim Tarwater said Midland volunteers have been working "diligently" to clean up the problem areas.
"There has been a great deal of effort put forth to clean up from High Street south," Tarwater said.
Mayor Stan Krysztof was not in favor of sponsoring the grant, because of the paperwork involved in previous grant applications. He also expressed his personal experiences with the railway including excessive blowing of the train whistle and "flying" through intersections without blowing the whistle.
Sharole Prahl, who lives in west Baldwin, offered a countering view earlier in the meeting.
"I think those train whistles are charming. I think they add to the flavor of the town," Prahl said. She said the Midland Railway also attracts tourism dollars to town. "I think anything we can do to encourage (Midland Railway) we should do."