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Passengers climb aboard the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad after long pandemic break

Adults and kids enjoyed first public train rides in 18 months at Fairview Park operated by Orange County Model Engineers.
Over the weekend adults and kids enjoyed first public train rides offered by the O.C. Model Engineers’ Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad in 18 months.
(Susan Hoffman)

For the first time since the pandemic hit in early 2020, conductors at the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad shouted, “All aboard” to the 2,700 plus riders who took advantage of free rides offered Saturday and Sunday.

Members of the Orange County Model Engineers, the nonprofit group that operates and maintains the miniature railroad in Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park, were on hand to welcome an enthusiastic public, including families who’d often enjoyed the railroad’s loop in the park prior to its closing.

Irvine resident Matt Malone and his family of four have been frequent visitors to the trains over the years. “We’re so happy it’s reopened after 18 months,” Malone said. “Our kids love trains and coming here.”

Railroad president Dennis Neil said his organization had received about 40,000 inquiries on social media prior to Saturday’s reopening.

The Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad was founded in 1988 by a group of local railroad buffs who have operated the 7 ½-inch gauge railroad for 30 years. An all-volunteer group, the Orange County Model Engineers behind the railroad is dedicated to preserving and operating vintage and modern live steam, gas-mechanical and electrical machinery in Orange County.

OCME has a variety of the miniature trains that travel over five miles of track for about a 15-minute ride. The organization provides the free public rides the third weekend of each month between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. as part of the Fairview Park use agreement with the city of Costa Mesa.

Matt Malone, Betty Chan, with kids, Koa, 2 and Kai, 5 are happy to revisit the OCME at Fairview Park.
Matt Malone and Betty Chan, with kids, Koa, 2 and Kai, 5 are happy to revisit the OCME at Fairview Park after its long closure.
(Susan Hoffman)

The Tran family, who drove to the park from Fullerton, were among the many first-time riders. Ethan Tran, 3, was excited to go on his first train ride.

Huntington Beach resident Derrick Fadden brought his 3-year-old daughter, Kinsley.

“I grew up here and in my whole life it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced it,” said Fadden. “Kinsley loves trains, she’s been on a dozen trains, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, Colorado and Yosemite.”

Derrick Fadden took his daughter, Kinsley, 3, for her first ride at Orange County Model Engineer train railroad.
Derrick Fadden took his daughter, Kinsley, 3, for her first ride at Orange County Model Engineer train railroad at Fairview Park on Sunday.
(Susan Hoffman)

Fadden said he plans to celebrate his daughter’s next birthday with a party at Goat Hill Junction Railroad, which has become a popular event at the mini train operation.

Passengers on Sunday didn’t seem to notice the railroad’s old Hank Hornsveld Trestle, originally built in 1991 and crumbling, was out of commission until the conductors pointed it out.

Club volunteers began the reconstruction project of the 96-foot trestle bridge last July to replace rotted wood vertical piers or bents, horizontal stringers and decking across the top.

Conductors explain the reconstruction of trestle bridge during a pit stop as part of the OCME train rides at Fairview Park.
Conductors explain the ongoing reconstruction of trestle bridge during a pit stop as part of the OCME train rides at Fairview Park.
(Susan Hoffman)

“The entire structure is new except for the concrete footings,” explained Hank Castignetti, OCME secretary. “We don’t expect competition until mid 2022.”

“As we take down the old, we build the new,” explained Neil. “It’s a lengthy process.”

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