ELLSWORTH, Maine — Spectacular weather Saturday prompted 22 volunteers to spend all the livelong day working on the railroad.
The Down East Scenic Railway will embark later this month upon its second year of offering excursion rides on long-abandoned tracks between Hancock County’s Washington Junction and Ellsworth Falls, just west of Ellsworth.
Last year, some 8,000 railroad enthusiasts hopped aboard restored rail cars for 11-mile trips spread over 20 weekends.
This year’s excursions will begin on Saturday, May 26, and will run on weekends through Oct. 14. Until June 30, weekend trips will depart at 1:30 p.m. from a platform located behind Cadillac Mountain Sports on High Street in Ellsworth. After June 30, there will be two trips on weekends, the first at 10:30 a.m. and the second at 1:30 p.m. There also will be two trips on Father’s Day, which is June 17.
With the first trip only two weeks away, volunteers were busy Saturday replacing railbed ties that had seen better days and cleaning and painting the passenger and open-air cars that are towed behind one of two locomotives acquired by Downeast Rail Heritage Trust, a nonprofit organization that operates the excursions. One is a 1948, 70-ton General Electric diesel-electric locomotive that was once the workhorse of the Belfast and Moosehead Railroad in Unity. The other is a 1,000-horsepower ALCO-4 locomotive built in 1950.
“This is really a preservation effort,” said Tom Testa of Bar Harbor, who founded the Downeast Rail Heritage Trust. “People enjoy seeing and riding in the old cars, but it’s the volunteers, the people who come out here and do the work, that make this all happen. People don’t realize all of the time and effort required for every little project. These volunteers do it, they love doing it, and they’re proud of what they’ve done.
“A railroad is all about maintenance,” Testa said. “And, once in a while, a train passes through.”
Excursions run rain or shine, with inside seating available in two passenger coaches and the caboose. An open-air flatbed car offers picnic table seating and free rides for well-behaved dogs. Snacks and bottled water are sold on board, and riders are welcome to bring their own picnic lunches on the 90-minute trips.
Tickets are sold at Cadillac Mountain Sports. Fares are $15 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 12. Younger children ride free if they are not occupying a seat.
For more information, visit www.downeastscenicrail.org.