Santa may still come to scenic Jim Thorpe this winter, but he won’t be taking the train.
Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad announced Wednesday that it will shut down the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, effective Nov. 25. The popular passenger train has operated out of downtown Jim Thorpe for 15 years.
The company said it would offer refunds to customers who already purchased “Santa Special” train rides.
At issue is a nearly $100,000 outstanding amusement tax bill that the Carbon County borough claims the rail operation owes.
Owner Andy Muller Jr. contends that his train is not an amusement and that he’s in the freight business, “offering passenger excursion rides to local communities as a way of thanking them for their 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.”
“I have decided to focus our energies on communities that want to work with the railroads,” Muller said in a news release. "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 for us to stay where we are not welcome.”
According to the Lehighton-based Times News, the tax administrator for the borough and the local school district filed a civil suit against Muller earlier this month, seeking 2016, 2017, and 2018 taxes totaling $95,971.39. The borough collects a 5 percent amusement tax from businesses that provide “any manner or form of entertainment,” the Times News reported.
The train had seen steadily increasing ridership, to about 100,000 in 2017, according to the publication Railway Age. It took visitors on a narrated trip in vintage coaches from downtown Jim Thorpe to Lehigh Gorge State Park a few miles away and back. Prices ranged from $10 to $19 per ticket.
Jim Thorpe, home to historic churches, an opera house, and a haunted prison, thrives on tourism. The borough changed its name in 1954, dropping Mauch Chunk and taking up the name of Olympic legend Jim Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma whose remains are entombed in a mausoleum in the town.
Earlier this year, Glen Onoko Falls, one of the state’s most popular hiking trails, was closed in Jim Thorpe after a long history of injuries and fatal falls there.
Jay Miller, the Jim Thorpe Borough Council’s vice president, told the Times News he was not concerned that the train’s departure would ruin the town.
“[Muller] has to pay the tax,” he said. “That’s my position. The town will not collapse because of this train station. This is unfair to the businesses who do pay the tax.”