The first of a two-phase track construction project is slated to begin this week on the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad, as work crews will begin the process of laying new ties between Abilene and Enterprise. Workers from Mussleman and Hall, a railroad construction contractor from Wichita, will begin the task of tearing out old ties and replacing them with new ones, a job that is expected to take about 18 days.
The work is the first major overhaul of the former Rock Island and MKT rails since the Abilene to Woodbine section of the Herington-Salina subdivision was acquired by the Abilene and Smoky Valley organization in 1993. The route was originally constructed in 1887, becoming the second railroad to enter Abilene after the legendary Kansas Pacific was built in 1869.
A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling said the track reconstruction project is expected to take two years to complete. This first step involves replacing wooden ties that secure the rails in place. The second—and more expensive—phase will involve reconstructing the roadbed, which is essentially the foundation of the five-mile stretch of track between Abilene and Enterprise.
Boelling said the crews will begin at the Cedar Street crossing in Abilene and work east towards Enterprise. He said the seven-worker crew will be able to install about 200 ties per day and will complete the project by the opening of the 2022 excursion season on May 7, which is also the date of a special pre-Mother’s Day brunch train, which has already been sold out. Boelling said that the sturdier track will enable the A&SV to schedule more dinner trains and special events, and it will provide a more stable foundation for the railroad’s monolithic, century-old Santa Fe steam locomotive, which is scheduled to run on Memorial Day weekend.
This cost of the first phase of reconstruction is about $350,000, financed by donations and grants, including awards from the Emery Rail Heritage Trust Fund and the Community Foundation of Dickinson County. Boelling added that next year’s roadbed reconstruction, which will cost an estimated $2 million, will be financed by a series of grants currently being developed.