Discover Middle Georgia: SAM Shortline
CORDELE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – About an hour south of Macon, in the city of Cordele lies a small inconspicuous brick building. On the outside of this building reads “SAM Shortline Excursion Train Depot”, and though it might sound too good to be true, the excursion train is very much real. SAM Shortline runs from Cordele all the way to Archery where the boyhood home of President Jimmy Carter is located.
“The railroad is historic. Founded in 1884, it was a vital line for commerce that extended from Americus, where it was headquartered, in directions east and west from Americus, eventually winding up connecting Savannah, Georgia to Montgomery, Alabama, and thus we have our name: Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery,” said Lee Kinnamon, Chairman of the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority.
Because of this history, all of the coaches owned by SAM have the old Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery Railway painted on their sides. SAM, as it is known today, did its inaugural run in 2002, after two years of gathering funding and gaining support from President Carter and his wife Rosalynn. Back then, some members of the Georgia General Assembly said the train wouldn’t be viable, but as time has gone on, the line has brought in a lot of tourism.
“The economic impact of the SAM Shortline has been tremendous. We pull on average 200 passengers per trip, and this generates in a year’s time over 2 million dollars in a direct economic impact to the two county jurisdictions of Crisp County and Sumter County.” Kinnamon exclaimed.
Throughout the year, SAM hosts different types of excursions and events which offer something more than just “riding a train”. Most of these events coincide with different holidays such as the annual Halloween Express where families travel to President Carter’s hometown in Plains to enjoy Trunk or Treat or the Holiday Train where passengers can enjoy hot chocolate and cookies on the train where they can get a chance to meet Santa Claus. Early in the summer, SAM is visited by none other than everyone’s favorite little blue engine, Thomas the Tank Engine.
“That is a three weekend event and that is our biggest fundraiser to help support SAM. Without the Thomas event, we’d be in pretty bad financial shape, and of course during COVID, we were not able to have it, so we were struggling through that time, but we had a great one this past year.” explained Ellen Harris, the manager of the Plains Historic Inn, Community Center, and Antique mall.
The line brings in both new and old rail fans alike– despite it not seeming as scenic as other well-known lines like the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway– but passengers on the SAM Shortline say they are looking for something else while riding on SAM.
“Families would say this is the first time we’d been on a trip, we were on the train for two hours and we actually talked to each other. We sat there like if there was four of them, we’d sat there in the little booth and they just sat there and looked at things out the window and they talked about things and it was memories that they were making that they would never forget.” Harris remarked.
If you would like to learn more about SAM Shortline you can go here.