After nearly 150 years of service to Lewes, the final train has left town.
Just after 9:30 a.m., Dec. 15, an engine from Delaware Coast Line Railroad pulled three tanker cars from the shadow of the Lewes water tower, past the Lewes Public Library and over Savannah Road one last time.
“What’s sad to me is that history will be lost,” said Dan Herholdt, general manager of Delaware Coast Line Railroad. “The railroad has been in Lewes since the early 1870s, and now it’s done. It’s closing a chapter.”
Until last year, Delaware Coast Line Railroad hauled materials to and from SPI Pharma, a pharmaceutical plant near Cape Henlopen State Park, a few times a month. That all changed when it was discovered the historic swing bridge over the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal was unsafe. After further study, DelDOT determined it would be too expensive to repair the bridge and decided to decommission the railroad line from Cool Spring to SPI Pharma.
The train had to come back to Lewes one last time to haul out three tanker cars stranded at SPI Pharma when the bridge was deemed unsafe. In November, the cars were lifted off the track and onto trailers. They were towed over the Freeman Bridge and placed back on the tracks near the Lewes water tower.
The final train left Lewes with little fanfare. The trip was unannounced and, Herholdt said, there were only a few onlookers as word began to spread. Many people commented on social media that they could hear the train whistle as the train came into town.
Delaware Coast Line Railroad began service to Lewes in October 1982 and averaged about 60 trips per year until 2013. Herholdt estimates his company had made about 650 trips to Lewes.
Despite losing the SPI Pharma as a customer, Herholdt said the railroad increased business by 18 percent this year. He said his company has already added another new customer for 2018.
Customers include two gas companies and Allen Harim.
“We’re fine,” he said. “We’ll have less track to maintain. Now we can focus on what we have to do to make it better.”
The Department of Transportation, which owns the railroad right of way, expects to begin removing the rail line in the spring, with a targeted start in April. Before that can occur, DelDOT must first receive approval from the Surface Transportation Board of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and then the project will be advertised, said Bob Perrine, DelDOT’s railroad program manager. Due to the size and scope, Perrine said, the project should attract national companies and affordable estimates.
The railroad track will end just west of Fisher Road in Cool Spring. The section between Allen Harim in Harbeson and Fisher Road may be used for storage of rail cars, engines and other materials, Herholdt said.
Lewes Mayor and City Council voted 3-1 Dec. 11 to seek preservation of a small section of railroad track between the library and the Rollins Community Center, between Kings Highway and Adams Avenue.
Herholdt said he is happy to see Lewes embrace the town’s long relationship with the railroad.
“If nothing else, it preserves history,” he said. “They could always put static displays on that rail. I’m glad they’re keeping part of it.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated