Limited schedule. Last train
runs Sunday, September 2, 2001 .
the Northern Central Railway, and Liberty Limited.
Dining aboard the Liberty
Limited. Elegant multiple course
meals served as you ride.
Onboard entertainment. Intimate live theater in an improvisational style.
Consist of the Liberty
Limited. A look at some of the
cars in our historic fleet.
images of the NCR.
Equipment move (March
Also on this site:
Rail Cars Homepage
Historic railroad collectibles for sale.
of Railroadiana Events; R. J. Hoffer's
exhaustive monthly listing of Railroadiana shows and auctions in North America.
Links to other sites:
Southern Railroad, of Walkersville, Md.--a nearby
Attractions and Events in York County.
A Moving Dining and Entertainment Experience.
Thank You, and Goodbye!
Kenneth Bitten, President of Northern Central Railway, Inc. announced on August
13, 2001 that the company will be shutting down as of September 2nd. Northern Central
Railway has been operating a dinner train and railroad in Southern York County for
over five years. The company has had ongoing problems dealing with the Borough Council
in New Freedom, PA, which is its main terminal. More recently, the weak economy
has led to a drastic downturn in sales.
The rail line is one of the oldest in the country, having been completed from Baltimore
to York by 1838. It was ravaged during the Civil War and eventually sold to the
Pennsylvania Railroad as part of its far-flung system throughout the Northeast.
Always used mostly as a passenger line, it was past its prime by the 1960s. After
Hurricane Agnes inflicted majored damage in 1972, the railroad was abandoned. The
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania rebuilt the line in 1985 for freight service, but when
that business failed to materialize, the line went dormant again until 1996. At
that time, the County of York, which had purchased the line, leased it to the Northern
Central Railway, a new company named after the original operator. The firm operated
a dinner train service known as the "Liberty Limited", named after the
famous P. R. R. streamliner.
Several years ago the line also ran trips originating out of York City. These trains
stopped when the County and Emons Transportation, the owner of the last 2 1/2 miles
of railroad into the city, could not reach an agreement for the purchase of the line.
Officials of the line viewed access to York as an important part of their market
base. Ridership stagnated after the York service was canceled.
The Northern Central Railway was well-known for its "murder mystery" trains,
which featured professional actors who made their way through the train and interacted
with the passengers as the plot unfolded. "Scenic Sunday Dinner" trains
were also well liked, particularly by families. They featured "Peck Foster
and the Bluegrass Brakemen" a musical trio that combined comedy, musicianship
and sing along. Of course, the 1940s train and the food were the reasons that most
While Bitten cited low sales and financial considerations as the primary reason
for the closing, he indicated that issues with the borough government were an important
factor. "The ongoing harassment has simply become exhausting. The borough
council started giving us problems even before we began running" said Bitten.
He cited as an example the fact that the borough has charged the railroad with violating
sewer codes even though the line had all of its liquid waste pumped out and hauled
away by a licensed waste hauler. "We even switched from preparing our own food
to using a licensed off-premises caterer so we could eliminate the issues associated
with food preparation, but the council still wasn't satisfied."
Bitten was very clear to indicate that the issues were with certain members of the
borough council, not with the citizens. "The majority of the residents in the
borough liked the train. A small handful of nearby residents were initially disturbed
by the noise but as we fine tuned our operations to minimize the disturbance, the
problems largely went away. Most residents and trail users looked at the train as
The line hauled approximately 75,000 passengers during its five years of operation.
Despite marketing efforts, only one carload of freight was ever moved. In recent
years, the company had a joint program with the Southern Regional Recreation Board.
Each Christmas season, they operated a family-oriented experience based on the famous
children's book, the Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. The railroad also hosted
a dinner on Christmas Eve for residents of Southern York County in cooperation with
Southern Community Services complete with Santa's Elves and gifts for the children.
In addition to providing nostalgic and fun-filled rides for thousands of passengers,
the Company provided employment for as many as 75 local residents at any one time
and offered training programs and opportunities for dozens of volunteers to learn
more about railroads and railroading. The Company won the American Short Line and
Regional Rail Association's Gold Medal in 1998 for having more hours worked without
injury than any other railroad of its size in the country. This was part of an injury-free
period which lasted more than 1,000 days.
The Company's assets will be auctioned off on Sept. 8. What happens after that
is not clear. Public sentiment seems to favor having some sort of train ride on
the line, and Bitten agrees. "I may not be involved in a new operation"
he said "but I would like to help facilitate one." In the meantime, he
encouraged people to make reservations for the last runs on Saturday, September 1st
and Sunday, September 2nd. "We have plenty of space on both trains, and it
may be your last chance to ride the line for a while."
For information or reservations,
call: (717) 235-4000 or (800) 94-TRAIN.