PORT CLINTON, Pa. — The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway announced it would cease operations in Jim Thorpe, Pa., as of November 25, a response to the borough’s request that the tourist railroad begin paying an amusement tax and a lawsuit seeking back taxes.
The Lehigh Gorge and its sister railroad, the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern, began operating trains out of Jim Thorpe 15 years ago, and owner Andy Muller Jr. indicated in a press release that the company would move the passenger operation elsewhere. The railroad currently offers a 16-mile round trip from Jim Thorpe through Lehigh Gorge State Park. Its schedule through the planned closure date offers with three trips on weekdays and seven on weekend in October, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday operations in November.
The freight business “is where we make our money,” Muller said in the release. “I have offered passenger excursion rides to local communities as a way of thanking them for support over the years and to educate young and old in the glorious role railroads in this region played in our country’s industrial revolution.
“Since it is clear the mayor and borough council do not care about what we have done over the last 15 years … I have decided to focus our energies on communites that want to work with the railroads. While I feel terrible for our loyal employees, our repeat customers, and Jim Thorpe merchants who have supported our excursion trains, there is no reason to stay where we are not welcome.”
The Times-News of Lehighton, Pa., reports that the borough collects a 5% amusement tax and the Jim Thorpe Area School District collects a 2.5% amusement tax, with those fees generally added to the ticket or admission price. In a lawsuit filed in September, the collection agency for the borough and school district said it seeks $95,971.39 in back taxes for failure to pay the amusement tax in 2016 through 2018.
In Wednesday’s press release, the railroad said “it is not an amusement and will not pay any so-called amusement tax.”
The Lehigh Gorge will issue refunds for those who have already purchased tickets for its Santa Trains, and said that the closure does not affect Reading Blue Mountain & Northern passenger operations from other locations to Jim Thorpe. It plans to announce a new schedule of rides from other communities soon.