With the announced end of passenger excursions on Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway just a week away, the Borough of Jim Thorpe extended an olive branch by withdrawing a lawsuit filed against the railroad for roughly $100,000 in unpaid amusement taxes, but the question of whether the gesture will lead to a resumption of excursions in 2020 remains unanswered. Lehigh Gorge is owned and operated by regional freight-hauler Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern, which has denied that it is subject to a local amusement tax on tickets on grounds that it is exempt as railroad transportation and because it operates passenger excursions as a public service, not as a profit generator. The railroad responded to the filing of the suit in October by announcing termination of excursion operations as of November 25.
The borough council dropped the lawsuit in an intended show of good will after at least two meetings with railroad officials, though its president, Greg Strubinger commented in local news reports that the litigation could be resumed if both sides cannot reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The borough says the tax revenue from Lehigh Gorge ticket sales is needed to offset costs including police officers for traffic control, while the railroad argues that the economic impact and sales taxes collected at other businesses from tourists who come to ride the excursion trains far outweighs any expenses incurred by city government.
The railroad has not yet responded and further talks on an agreement to keep trains running out of Jim Thorpe in 2020 remain to be scheduled, but Strubinger said he is looking forward to further meetings toward that end.
—Eric Berger, Railfan & Railroad Magazine