LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — The COVID-19 pandemic has halted much of life; many popular tourist destinations are taking an economic hit. Other businesses have been forced to close altogether.
Per Governor Wolf's order to close nonessential businesses, a popular Lancaster County tourist attraction remains 95 percent shutdown.
The Strasburg Railroad in Strasburg Township is turning to its freight business to stay afloat. Even while the passenger cars remain empty, officials' hopes remain high. They anticipate when they can burn the coal once more and see families enjoying the full steam adventure.
For now, though, you won't see very many people - just 22 employees who are deemed essential to the business. What would normally be a bustling passenger car with eager riders is empty as the COVID-19 global pandemic shuts down many aspects of life.
Time may feel like it's at a standstill, but some things are moving. Freight, which was once just 5 percent of all its operations, is now the railroad's only source of income and the only activity on site. People can see tractors trailers coming and going to pick up grains and other commodities.
"Anything we can do to keep the Strasburg Railroad viable," explained Stephen Weaver, the vice president of engineering.
The railroads' restaurants and shops are shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Passenger cars remain empty - doors locked and boilers off. Officials say 60 employees are temporarily furloughed, which leaves 22 essential workers to keep what can still operate on track.
"We're team members," added Weaver. "We work together. We're cross trained. We sometimes work in the shops or sometimes on the locomotives, and so it's a furlough, and to say goodbye temporarily even to to the large vast number of these guys is like, 'wow.' Yeah, it hits below the gut."
Weaver says it's a trying time; he's also prepared to switch hats to keep the railroad afloat.
"I am cross trained as a locomotive engineer and as a conductor," he explained. "If push comes to shove, Mr. W. has asked the officers to work for free, and we will."
While freight may not be what makes a majority of the money at Strasburg Railroad, Weaver hopes, when all this is said and done, it will double. He is urging companies to consider sending their business its way.
"We are still open for business," he added. "We can haul your commodity- whatever it may be."
Strasburg Railroad was set to unveil exciting new additions for 2020. However, those got put on hold because of COVID-19.
People can still support the railroad, though, by buying tickets for the future.