Cell phones across the county let out an ear piercing sound on Wednesday, September 28. This message was a warning to all that we were under a Flash Flood Warning. The rain in Burlington and surrounding areas kept coming until some roads were impassable. Police and Fire responded to heavy call volume in response to stranded drivers. As the rain stopped and the storm water receded, damages were assessed. As it often does, Burlington’s City Park experienced serious flooding. Sadly, some of the greatest damage suffered was to the Park’s beloved miniature train.
The water from Little Alamance Creek had risen and engulfed the miniature train depot. As staff started to access damage on Thursday morning, they determined the water had risen several feet high within the train depot. The water had flooded gear boxes and air lines of the train. Debris was stuck in all the crevasses of the mechanics of the train. The fuel tank was thankfully above the water line.
They ventured out onto the tracks. An estimated 75% of the gravel from the train tracks has been washed away. The metal track had to be straightened, drainage ditches had filled in with debris, and over 150 feet of fence was destroyed. The flood waters had moved so fast that a picnic table and portable restroom had been swept from their locations to the bridge that the train tracks cross.
With only 30 days until the annual Dark in the Park Halloween celebration at City Park, staff was skeptical that the train could be ready in time. Hurricane Matthew hit the coast only days after the flash flooding in Burlington. Alongside their daily park maintenance duties, including the upkeep of 25 playgrounds, grounds keeping on over 250 acres of park property, and supporting the production of special events, the City’s Park Maintenance team went to work to restore the train to safe working order.
Over the course of 4.5 weeks, Chris Wright and his staff: Billy Hicks, Travis Dalton, Roger Allen, Nathan Britt, Todd Langston, Tanner Poteat, David Gross, Sam Lazar, Scott Summers, Letcher Beck, and Jay Tanna, replaced and leveled 96 tons of gravel, replaced fence, repaired existing drainage ditches, added new ditches, and inspected 608 railroad ties and 2432 track spikes. City garage staff also consulted and coordinated to evaluate the diesel engine for repairs. The train then had to pass a state inspection in order to open.
“The train is a fixture of City Park,” said Park Maintenance Manager Chris Wright. “The community looks forward to riding the train and we didn’t want to disappoint them.”
To avoid the risk of getting the community’s hopes up, the Haunted Train was cancelled and no promises were made that the miniature train would even be operational during the Dark in the Park event on October 29th. However, on October 27th at 10am, the NC Labor Department’s inspectors cleared the train to operate. With just two days to spare, the Park Maintenance crew had done it; they would have the miniature train in operation for its last hurrah of the season.
The train ran for huge crowds at the 2016 Dark in the Park event. A steady flow of families lined up to ride the train throughout the evening. The hard work of the Recreation Maintenance and Garage crews made hundreds of smiles possible last weekend.