Flood devastates Railway Museum

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Model train center filled with 40 inches of water

By The Staff

Now that the waters have receded in LaRue and Nelson counties, the damage assessment is under way. In New Haven, the fast-moving flood proved particularly devastating for the tracks and model trains of the Kentucky Railway Museum.

Greg Mathews, executive director for the Kentucky Railway Museum, said the flood has derailed their day-to-day operations.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” he said.

Mathews said there has been significant damage to three sections of track operated by the non-profit organization, which have had the supporting embankments washed out from under the steel rails and wood ties.

The museum building is in Nelson County, but the tracks pass through a section of LaRue County.

In addition to sections of ruined track, the nearly 8 inches of rain that fell and the flooding that followed filled the museum’s model train center with 40 inches of water.

Mathews said the losses have hit employees hard. Some of them have been working at the museum for decades.

“It’s a hard blow for them to see the shape that it is currently in,” he said.

Contractors have already begun stripping away the insulation, dry wall and other damaged areas of the model train center. The sight of the wall frames and tables devoid of train sets saddened marketing director Lynn Dawson as she viewed the building’s interior.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Mathews said they lost two complete model layouts and numerous models, hand-built replicas and collector’s pieces were damaged. Overall, Mathews said they filled four dumpsters with thrown-away items.

However, the more visually shocking injury was suffered by the railroad track. The flood harmed 800 feet of track spread across three sections — the first near New Haven across the LaRue County line, the second at Stillwell Road heading to Boston and the third near the Jim Beam Distillery, which all had the ballast and embankments completely washed away.

This has created stretches where the railroad track and ties are suspended in midair, hanging 15 feet away from the ground in some places. The sight of the metal beams with nothing beneath them is eerie and a potent reminder of the power of Mother Nature.

While federal funding may help to rebuild the wrecked railroad, it can’t replace the business stolen by the flood’s ferocity. Mathews said normally at this time of year, the museum, which operates 17 miles of track as “tourist excursion” railroad, would be running trains every day.

The damage has shut down a majority of the track, but the small portion extended toward New Haven remains operable. Mathews said they will begin running one-hour excursions along this route today.

Mathews attended a meeting Tuesday with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that also included members of county government, business owners and emergency workers in New Haven to inspect the devastation caused by the flooding May 1-2 and discussed possible federal assistance.

Nelson County Judge-Executive Dean Watts said said FEMA estimated the museum suffered $477,000 worth of damage to its tracks and the building that houses the model train center. However, damage to county and state roads was minimal.