Superstitious folks might just feel the tracks are cursed. For over a decade, Mount Dora has seen passenger train operations start and stop for a variety of reasons. Inevitably, a new vintage passenger train arrived to fill the void.
That’s about to change. On April 22, Central Florida Railroad (CFR), which owns the tracks, will cease allowing passenger trains on the section of track between Tavares and Mount Dora.
Government regulations understandably require tracks that carry passenger trains be maintained to a higher standard than their freight counterparts. Officials at CFR have determined it’s cost-prohibitive to maintain 100-year-old tracks to that high level, according to Pete Petree of Pinsly Railroad Company, the holding company of CFR.
The passenger train will continue its excursion rides from Tavares to Eustis which operates on much newer tracks.
CFR will return the use of the Mount Dora/Tavares tracks to its main business of freight and storage and will also explore other opportunities that would not involve passenger trains. The termination date of April 22 cannot be changed and the company is not looking for subsidies from the City of Tavares or Mount Dora, according to Petree. Instead, CFR officials opted to move forward with re-focusing their business on that portion of track.
The train operator, Royal Palm Railway, remains committed to the Tavares/Eustis excursion train. Last year the operator experienced strong growth in ridership as visitors rode the train into Mount Dora from Tavares and used it as a shuttle into Mount Dora’s large festivals. Additionally, the operator’s Polar Express train and other themed rides have been very successful, according to Neil Bagaus, spokesperson for Royal Palm Railway. He estimates ridership during a 12-month period to be between 100,000 and 125,000. After April 22, riders will still be able to catch the train at the downtown Tavares station and ride it into Eustis on Thursdays through Sundays starting at 10 a.m.
As Mount Dora passenger train operations have come and gone, their charm remains woven into the fabric that created the city’s reputation as a quaint, historic town. Gone are the days of Herbie, the little yellow engine beloved for years by local toddlers, followed by the big steam Orange Blossom Cannonball. Now Mount Dorans will bid farewell to Royal Palm Railway and its fleet of refurbished 1940’s passenger cars in what seems to be the sad end of Mount Dora’s passenger train era.
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