Balfour Beatty Rail employees David Notz, left, and Nathaniel John Howard remove debris and rail parts after a spike puller dislodged rotted ties and rails
Balfour Beatty Rail employees David Notz, left, and Nathaniel John Howard remove debris and rail parts after a spike puller dislodged rotted ties and rails along the York County Heritage Rail Trail to accommodate a Civil War-era train, operated by Steam Into History Inc. (Bill Kalina photo)

This machine is a trip, both literally and figuratively. It's called a trip, and its function is also a bit mind-blowing.

A driver sits inside the unit as it moves along the railroad tracks, lifting them, pulling out deteriorating railroad ties and pushing in the new ones.

The railroad rehabilitation project has caught the attention of area residents and visitors to the York County Heritage Rail Trail as crews from Balfour Beatty Rail Inc. in Indianapolis replace more than 7,000 ties over 10 miles of track along the trail, between Hanover Junction and New Freedom.

When the 12 men are finished, an inspector will have to give the green light for Steam Into History's multi-million dollar 19th-century train attraction to open to the public on June 2, giving the Northern Central Railroad more action than it has seen in decades.

Railroad supervisor Troy Miller of Ohio said community reaction to the operation, which includes a small fleet of other uncommon machines, is typically less pleasant than the curious fascination that has greeted the workers in York.

"Usually, there's confrontation because the (residents) have to put up with the trains going all day," he said. "Here, you love us. ... There are a lot of railroad buffs, and when's the last time you saw anything like this on the railroad?"

Dangerous work: The work is dangerous, and parts

of the trail will be restricted to visitors for about the next week as crews finish the operation that started last week.

Along with the "trip," there's a machine that pulls old railroad spikes, a crane that transports ties, a plater that inserts the metal plates into which the spikes are driven, a machine that pounds spikes into the ties, and a quality assurance unit that cleans up loose ends, Miller said.

The tracks haven't been used recreationally for at least five years and haven't been heavily traveled for decades. They're so loosely grounded that they "walk," or move around, as the men move the machines along them.

"We approach every job with an attitude of safety," Miller said. "We obey every rule. Every rule has been written in blood, so you don't want to repeat that (mistake)."

Lincoln rode here: Abraham Lincoln twice traveled the tracks, completed in 1838, -- on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address and posthumously in his funeral car.

A reproduction 19th-century steam locomotive named York 17 has been built to haul passengers along the 10-mile stretch of railroad.

The locomotive is still at an Illinois company being "tweaked" for its arrival at the New Freedom train station, expected around May 20, said Debi Beshore, manager of sales and administration for Steam Into History.

The nonprofit is based at 2 W. Main St. in New Freedom, where plans include building an engine house for locomotive and coach storage, as well as facilities for visitors and a ticketing and parking area.

Beshore said the Main Street space will include offices, a gift shop, museum displays and a model train display arranged by some of the dozens of people who have volunteered to be involved in the attraction.

The coaches: Organizers are leasing two replica 1880s coaches while two 1860s cars are built for permanent use. The leased coaches, expected to arrive the week of May 8, can carry 175 passengers total and will come equipped with a bike carrier for rail trail riders, Beshore said.

The nonprofit has estimated the total cost at $7 million, with funding coming from private donations.

The group is expected to employ about 10 people, and it's still looking for interns.

Steam Into History is expected to have 40,000 visitors in its first year, running the train three times per day six days per week between June and Labor Day. Runs will be abbreviated the rest of the year, and closed for the months of January and February.

Beshore estimated the organization will generate about $9 million per year in economic impact, some in sales at the attraction, but mostly at nearby businesses such as restaurants and hotels.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffma