Lebanon will keep railroad in city

Council approved the passage of the contract with LM&M railroad on a 4-1 vote, with two members of council absent.

Based on the contract terms, the city will continue to pay for upkeep of the railroad, at an estimated $200,000 per year. In return, LM&M will pay an annual fee of $3,000, down from the $5,250 it had been paying previously. LM&M will also pay the city a fee of $0.50 per ticketed rider. LM&M had requested a reduction in its annual fee because it has to pay for inspections required by the Federal Railroad Administration that it had previously been receiving for free.

The city of Lebanon owns five miles of track that is used exclusively by LM&M Railroad, a private business, for hour-long tourist excursions starting in downtown Lebanon.

The debate over the railroad is whether the visitors and economic dollars the tourist train brings to the city are worth the approximately $794,000 the city has put into maintenance and repairs of the track since 2008. That city will have to pay an estimated $50,000 more in 2013 for a Bridge Maintenance Management Plan required by the FRA.

Vice Mayor Charleen Mehaffie Flick and Council members Jim Dearie, Jim Norris and Matt Rodriguez voted in favor of the contract. The two members of council who were absent from Wednesday’s meeting — Mayor Amy Brewer and Mark Messer — had spoken out against continuing to fund track repairs in the past.

Despite months of debate over the future of the train, nothing was said at Wednesday’s meeting and the vote was quick and succinct.

Rodriguez said he believed that the train was a significant factor in bringing people to downtown Lebanon.

Dearie has said he wanted to put together an independent study to determine what value the train really added to the downtown in terms of bringing visitors and dollars to the city. He said he also felt the city had a responsibility to look after infrastructure projects like the physical railroad track, regardless of how they were being used.

Monroe said he believed the train was not a good investment for the city and that the money spent on the train could be used for better economic development.