CAPE MAY — Passenger train service to the city resumed Tuesday for the first time in five years, and it happened without much fanfare.
City officials were not even aware Cape May Seashore Lines had brought back the service. It was announced to about 400 railroad buffs on the social networking site Facebook, and about 40 passengers were on the first run from Rio Grande.
Cape May Seashore Lines President Tony Macrie was on the first train Tuesday morning.
“We are back, Jack,” said Macrie shortly after the two railroad cars pulled into the station here off Lafayette Street.
Macrie said bystanders were excited seeing the train steam down the track.
“Kids were running to the train. People were waving. People in swimming pools were jumping up,” Macrie said.
The city had train service from 1863 to 1983, mostly during an era when trains were used to bring tourists to the resort. The rise of the automobile and paved highways to the shore after World War II led to the demise of train service, but Cape May Seashore Lines returned as a tourist attraction in 1999.
Macrie said it was going pretty good until 2005, when a series of problems arose. The setbacks included mechanical issues with the swinging railroad bridge across the Cape May Canal. They were fixed in 2006, and Macrie was planning to restart in 2007, when an April Northeast storm damaged the tracks and stranded his locomotives in Tuckahoe.
Macrie also had a well-publicized battle with Middle Township over storing some cars in Rio Grande but said those problems have since been ironed out.
“We just got a letter of support from Middle Township. The timing is right to get things running,” Macrie said.
Local officials were not aware trains were returning, but Cape May Point Mayor Carl Schupp was excited about the development, partly because he believes trains could be useful for hurricane evacuations.
“That’s great. It may be useful to emergency management if we ever needed to evacuate,” said Schupp.
Macrie said he has promoted the idea for years. He said he could run 10 cars at a time with 80 people per car. The track is currently clear from Cape May to Cape May Court House and eventually could go to Tuckahoe or even further north and west.
“There’s probably no better way to get people out of here,” Macrie said.
For now, he’s just looking for paying customers. The plan is to operate three runs a day between Rio Grande and Cape May from Tuesday through Friday into Labor Day weekend.
“We have ample parking in Rio Grande. It’s $10 per round trip for adults and $5 for kids age 2 to 12. We want to keep it reasonable and get people to ride,” Macrie said.
Contact Richard Degener: