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Roundhouse may be closer to attracting tourists

November 06, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

After 10 years of talks about turning Hagerstown Roundhouse into a museum, officials of CSX Real Property and a nonprofit railroad group are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

If all goes well, the old roundhouse could be renovated and hosting tourists within two years, the president of Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum said Wednesday.

"We're looking forward to having a first class rail and/or transportation museum on that site," said Bob Tracey.

CSX Real Property President Stephen Beck said CSX could transfer 40 acres between City Park and Burhans Boulevard, including Academy Hill and the old roundhouse, to a new owner, probably the state of Maryland, within a year.

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Beck would not say how much money CSX officials want for the land. CSX and state officials must work out liability issues, such as who would be responsible for environmental problems like underground fuel spills, he said.

If the land is transferred to the state, the roundhouse museum would lease the property between Burhans Boulevard and City Park, Tracey said.

The roundhouse museum and the Hagerstown chapter of the National Railway Historical Society probably will begin a major fund-raising campaign early next year, he said.

Officials of those groups have begun seeking grant money and will approach Hagerstown, Washington County and Maryland officials for public funding, Tracey said.

Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said the commissioners have not discussed funding for the roundhouse, but probably would be willing to help.

The roundhouse museum proposal has a lot of potential considering the area's rich rail history, Bowers said.

Tracey said he wants the public to be able to tour the property as early as May so they can see its potential.

More than $1 million would be needed to ready the roundhouse for the public. Needed work includes installation of a metal or aluminum sheet over the lower windows to prevent future vandalism, he said.

Rehabilitating the roundhouse and a nearby two-story warehouse for railroad displays could cost around $5 million and would take five to 10 years, Tracey said. The warehouse also could house a restaurant and railroad-related retail shops.

CSX abandoned the crescent-shaped, brick and steel roundhouse in 1986, Tracey said. A turntable in front of the roundhouse connects the incoming rail line to lines going to 25 stalls in the roundhouse where rail cars and locomotives can be repaired.

After those two buildings are fixed up, it could cost another $5 million to rehabilitate two buildings between the roundhouse and the warehouse to make them suitable for housing additional exhibits, museum officials said.

The four buildings contain about 55,000 square feet. The 300 S. Burhans Blvd. building the museum now leases from CSX has about 8,000 square feet of space.

Plans include offering rail excursions to areas such as Martinsburg, W.Va., and Winchester, Va., Tracey said.

There's also a possibility the MARC rail system will locate a terminal at the 40-acre site to accommodate tourists from the Washington, D.C., area, museum officials said.

More than $1 million a year could be raised to support the museum by subleasing roundhouse stalls to contractors who rehabilitate steam and diesel locomotives and rail cars, Tracey said. Tourists could watch the work being done, he said.

Museum officials would store antique locomotives and rail cars in the roundhouse, he said.

Eventually, the museum could draw more than 100,000 visitors a year, Tracey said.

If the land transfer moves ahead, environmental issues would need to be addressed before work could begin.

CSX has cleaned up and filled in two lagoons that were used for sewage treatment plant runoff and are monitoring several wells on the property, Tracey said.

CSX will clean up above-ground problems such as asbestos and lead paint, Beck said.

CSX and museum officials are negotiating who will clean up broken glass from the roundhouse.

Tracey said museum officials are grateful for CSX's cooperation.

"I think under the circumstances, we've made remarkable progress," Tracey said.

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