By BOB PALMER
Somewhere Jay Gould is chuckling.
The 19th Century railroad baron once predicted grass would grow in the streets of Jefferson, because the city would not cut a deal to bring rail traffic here.
Now the trains Gould saw as the engine of economic progress may actually hurt the local tourism business, some fear. Others disagree.
“I specifically received an email about a month ago from a long-time patron of Jefferson” Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kari Alexander said. They were “disgusted that the train had stopped on the tracks for over an hour. For other visitors, the trains stopping is difficult.”
Bed and Breakfast owners say, however, guests may notice the trains, but they have not had a negative impact on business, so far.
“I operated Scarlett O’Hardy’s B&B from 2005 until December 9, 2012,” Bobbie Hardy recalled. “In all those years, only one guest complained to me about train whistles.”
The complaint made an impression.
“I shall always remember the Saturday morning when the lady shook her finger in my face, literally, and said, ‘You have to do something about those train whistles!’”
Hardy had a reply ready.
“I explained that I could do a lot about many things, but a train whistle was not on the list. That was the last time I saw the lady and her husband,” Hardy said.
Doug Thompson with Angell Manor B&B said few guests have griped about train whistles.
“I do not think trains hurt tourism, but it does restrict a good portion of our city property from expanding or supporting our tourism trade,” Thompson said.
“The only complaints we have had about trains causing delays have come from quests coming into town from the north on Hwy 49,” Thompson explained. “There has been a couple of times the trains were just setting there for a long period of time.”
Train whistles have drawn some remarks.
“We have had quests mention they heard them during the evening or they woke them up last night, but they did not seem to be disturbed,” Thompson said. “Some guests have commented that they enjoyed hearing them come through.”
Jessica Brooks with Carriage House B&B questioned trains blocking traffic for extended periods of time.
“The train at 49 and 59 delays traffic for at least 15 minutes at a time,” Brooks said. “Why do they have to stop at that intersection? Can they not stop before or after?
“It does not affect tourism unless it’s flea market weekend. A lot of people who come from Lake of the Pines to work and who help to support this great community are having to deal with not being able to make it to their jobs on a daily basis on time because of that train intersection.”
Jefferson Tourism Director Kevin Godfrey agrees the impact of trains on tourism has been minimal.
“I have to admit that they have no negative impact on tourism at all,” Godfrey said. “Trains that traverse the downtown area just add to the old-world charm of the city as they rumble through town.
“The more data I collect shows that most of our visitors are from more urban areas and they are enchanted by the idea of places that have a deep-rooted history and of trains moving through town as part of that,” Godfrey concluded.
Mayor Bubba Haggard noted how residents who live close to tracks no longer notice the trains but agrees keeping streets open and reducing noise pollution are projects he will work on.
“People around here just live with it,” Haggard said.
Haggard also noted Police Chief Gary Amburn has in the past issued citations to train engineers blocking tracks, but the citations were ignored.
Haggard agreed trains blocking streets could be a dangerous situation.
“It is a bad situation, especially if that KCS train stops across MLK,” Haggard said.
Haggard said he will continue to explore ways to silence whistles and keep crossings open.
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