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Choo-choose: NCDOT auction for train cars attracts few buyers

Choo-choose: NCDOT auction for train cars attracts few buyers

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RALEIGH — The state's online auction of nine railroad cars once owned by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus failed to generate a buyer, but the N.C. Department of Transportation says it will try again.

State transportation officials put the cars up for sale last month, along with seven other old rail cars no longer needed. 

The state received an offer for two of the cars, both passenger models built in the 1960s with an asking price of $75,000 apiece.

The state is still evaluating those offers, said Jason Orthner, director of NCDOT's Rail Division.

He added that the state will organize another online auction for the other 14 cars, probably by the end of the month.

NCDOT will consider lowering the asking prices and revising the terms and conditions of the sales to try to entice more bids, he said.

"What we have here is a very unique product, and you don't have just your normal folks who are interested," he said. "It's difficult to nail down what the price point is for this market."

The state set minimum bids that ranged from $9,000 to $200,000. The state was asking $45,000 for each of the circus train cars, except for a baggage car that's filled with various hand and shop tools. The opening bid for it was $55,000. Seven of the nine circus cars were built in 1964, while the other two are older.

NCDOT paid $383,000 for the Ringling Bros. cars shortly after the circus gave its final performance in 2017. They are parked on a state-owned rail line in the woods of Nash County. NCDOT painted over the Ringling Bros. name and logos, although a faded "The Greatest Show on Earth" insignia still appear on some of the cars.

Orthner said NCDOT received lots of calls and inquiries about the cars, including visits from several prospective buyers who wanted to see them in person. He said the market for old rail cars includes private collectors and even business owners who want to place a car on their property for show.

The state doesn't intend to keep them.

"It's our intent to move these cars," Orthner said.

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