New owner of Midland Railway plans to have trains roaring back into action for Maple Leaf Festival, winter holiday excursions
photo by: Elvyn Jones/Journal-World
Ryan Robinson spent his Labor Day weekend painting the interior of the Santa Fe Depot in Baldwin City.
In addition to the fresh paint, Robinson, the new owner of the legally troubled and recently idled Midland Railway, is freshening up relationships that were strained or severed during Midland’s previous leadership.
The first public evidence that something was amiss with Midland Railway and its for-profit subsidiary Baldwin City & Southern Railroad centered on the very depot Robinson was painting. In March 2020, the Santa Fe Trail Historical Association revoked its sublease of the building to Midland for nonpayment of rent. The Santa Fe Trail association’s subsequent lawsuit seeking to recover lease payments and legal fees from Midland was the first of a host of suits to be filed against Midland Railway under the leadership of past Baldwin City & Southern CEO A.J. Stevens.
Those lawsuits included legal action by Baldwin City to get $321,000 from a Kansas Department of Commerce grant — funds the city had arranged for Midland. The city alleges it never received adequate accounting for how that money was spent.
Midland also agreed to make structured payments on a $404,506 settlement with Rail Events Inc. of Durango, Colorado, that stemmed from the railway’s failure to pay fees due on the Polar Express train ride ticket sales during the 2018 and 2019 holiday season.
Stevens resigned from his CEO position with Baldwin City & Southern in February after the Midland Railway board of directors filed suit in Douglas County District Court seeking his removal for alleged mismanagement. The Midland board then sold the railway and its assets to pay off legal obligations.
Roger Boyd, Santa Fe Trail association president, said Robinson’s takeover of the railway was a refreshing change from the past two years. He has been working with Robinson since July, and the Santa Fe Trail association has entered into a temporary lease of the depot to Robinson. Once the sale of Midland is final in October, a long-term lease will be signed, he said.
“He’s put on hundreds of events all over the country,” Boyd said, referring to Robinson’s experience with the Silverback Ironman competitions he organized before selling the event company in 2019. “He’s going to do great things for the community and the railroad — things Midland always said they were going to do.”
Robinson said the friendly and productive relationship with the Santa Fe Trail association was reflective of the welcome he has received from the Baldwin City community since he announced he would purchase Midland in May.
He has a team working on the details of the sale, which assures payments to those with legal claims against Midland. He expects that to be completed Oct. 1. That will allow the railway to offer its first excursion rides during the Oct. 15-16 Maple Leaf Festival.
“We’ll dust everything off during Maple Leaf,” he said. “Those rides will be on open-air cars.”
The Maple Leaf rides will serve as a prelude to the Snowglobe Express, which will offer holiday-themed excursion rides from Nov. 16 to Dec. 31 to Norwood, a point on the Midland tracks about six miles south of Baldwin City, Robinson said. Norwood will not just be a turnaound point for the train but will be a destination featuring such attractions as a corral for the five reindeer he owns and walks daily at his home in the southwest Douglas County community of Globe, Robinson said.
The ticket response to the holiday rides has been gratifying, with 16,000 tickets already sold, Robinson said.
“Our goal is to sell 30,000,” he said. “Midland only sold 20,000 for its Polar Express rides, so selling 16,000 by Sept. 1 looks very good. Ninety-seven percent of those tickets were sold to people outside Douglas County.”
To prepare, Robinson is painting passenger cars a dark blue that University of Kansas fans will recognize. A new red-and-blue locomotive and blue passenger car will soon arrive, he said. In addition, the cars will be decorated with strings of blue Christmas lights.
After the holiday season rides, the railway will “catch its breath” before starting regular excursion rides in spring 2023, Robinson said. Other big projects include developing the Norwood site with the addition of a wedding/events venue. Robinson said the goal was to have that open in fall 2023.
“Really, it’s gone remarkably smoothly,” he said. “I’m just letting the railroad people run the railroad, and I take care of event planning, which is what I do best.”