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Defunct tourist line deep in debt


The defunct EnterTRAINment Line excursion railroad owes money to more than 500 creditors, ranging from the state of Maryland to an 80-year-old woman in Wilmington, Del.

According to company officials and filings in Carroll County Circuit Court, the rail line -- whose assets are to be sold by a court-appointed trustee -- owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, defaulted loans and cashed tickets for trips that will never take place.

Some of the people owed by the once-profitable tourist attraction are more likely than others to recover a portion of their money -- such as Maryland's comptroller and a Carroll County bank that is holding a secured loan.

Last week, Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. gave New Windsor State Bank the right to keep and sell 10,000 shares of Maryland Midland Railway Co. stock that the EnterTRAINment Line's owners posted in December 1993 as collateral on a $131,000 loan.

EnterTRAINment owners Donald S. Golec and Steven Hamilton still owe $130,000 on the loan, court records show. The Maryland Midland stock, the EnterTRAINment Line's lawyers estimate, could bring as much as $88,000, leaving the bank with a much smaller unpaid balance on the loan.

On June 29, Judge Beck ordered the appointment of a trustee to sell the EnterTRAINment Line's assets to make partial payments to its creditors. The line's trains stopped running in May when Maryland Midland Railway barred it from using its tracks because the EnterTRAINment Line's owners had fallen behind on lease payments.

In addition to New Windsor State Bank, the state of Maryland will have a chance to recover some of the $500,000 that the EnterTRAINment Line owes in amusement taxes to Westminster and Union Bridge, a spokesman for the comptroller said yesterday. The state collects the taxes for the towns.

Jean Rutter won't be so lucky. The 80-year-old woman and 30 other members of the Concord chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons in Wilmington were looking forward to their second excursion on the rail line in September. In March, Ms. Rutter, the chapter's assistant treasurer, sent a $481 deposit to the EnterTRAINment Line.

She was about to send the remaining balance of nearly $1,500 last week, but first tried to call the company to ask why a similar group of Wilmington senior citizens was getting a better deal on its planned excursion.

"The [EnterTRAINment Line's] phones had been disconnected," Ms. Rutter said yesterday in a telephone interview. "We would have sent that money in if we hadn't called. I'm so glad I found out before I sent that check."

Ms. Rutter will join a group of up to 500 creditors, Mr. Golec said yesterday. He declined to be specific, but said the company's creditors include individual customers and vendors.

The court-appointed trustee, Howard A. Rubenstein of Baltimore, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Rubenstein has said that he hopes to find someone who would buy the company "lock, stock and barrel." Mr. Golec declined to say whether such a buyer had yet been found.

The troubled rail line has blamed its demise on a recent decision by the Maryland Tax Court saying it owed the $500,000 in back taxes to Union Bridge and Westminster.

Earlier this year, the company enlisted Carroll Republican state Sens. Larry E. Haines and Timothy R. Ferguson in a failed attempt to exempt the line from those taxes. The senators said the company's situation was a dire one in which a private firm might be killed by taxation.

Carroll Circuit and District Court records show that the company -- bought by the partners in February 1993 -- has been mired in financial difficulty at least since late last year. State records show the company has never paid any of its outstanding amusement tax bill.

The company's finances still are under the scrutiny of the Carroll County state's attorney's office and federal officials, and Mr. Golec faces felony theft and bad check charges stemming from the alleged nonpayment of a vendor in December.

Assistant State's Attorney Jerome E. Joyce said yesterday that his office is gathering information from others who allege they've been cheated, but no new criminal charges have been filed.

"We're continuing to make inquiries, looking into complaints about the company," Mr. Joyce said.

Another complaint about the EnterTRAINment Line came from Elaine Shaw, of Red Lion, Pa., who organized a trip for a senior citizens' group. The group had deposited $857 in May for a trip that was to have been June 17.

"We had been doing business with them for years, and they didn't have the courtesy to tell us they were having problems," Ms. Shaw said yesterday. "You really can't have faith in who you're dealing with anymore."

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