An illegal discharge of wastewater from the R.J. Corman Lexington Dinner Train drained into Town Branch last month, according to city and state records.
Noel Rush, vice president of finance and administration for R.J. Corman Railroad Group, described the wastewater as "gray water" and "dishwater," not sewage from a toilet.
Richard Lamey, compliance and monitoring manager with the Lexington Division of Water Quality, wrote in a report that investigators found a "pool of soapy wastewater" along the track. In an interview, Lamey said the majority of the discharge probably was gray water "because there was a lot of suds in it." But Lamey also said "there was matter indicative of sewage."
The discharge was "serious in that it's untreated sewage not being properly disposed of," Lamey said. "But in volume, it wasn't huge. It was not enough to cause a fish kill."
The city and state each issued notices of violation to the company.
On April 17, eight days after the state received an anonymous tip, Lamey and another employee with Lexington's Division of Water Quality and an investigator with the state Division of Water went to the R.J. Corman rail yard on Buchanan Street and found evidence "that an unpermitted discharge of septic waste had very recently occurred," according to a state report.
"Ponding liquids with evidence of septic solids was observed originating from a point at the rail line, collecting on the gravel road adjacent to the rail line, and was draining into Town Branch Creek," the state report said.
The city's notice of violation said "evidence of multiple past discharges were found in the same area."
The state report said an R.J. Corman employee told investigators that the dinner train's "standard procedure is to open an existing manhole" to Lexington's sanitary sewage system and "discharge the waste from the train into the manhole."
City Division of Water Quality employees told the Corman employee that discharging into a manhole requires a local permit and "offered to assist with a more acceptable access point to the sanitary system and required permitting," the state report said.
Reports of illicit discharges directly into a manhole "are fairly rare," Lamey said.
The state and city reports were obtained after the Lexington Herald-Leader submitted Open Records requests to the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection and the city's Division of Water Quality.
In its April 21 notice of violation, the state told the railroad company to cease all unpermitted discharges and to develop a plan to eliminate the discharge through proper disposal.
Lamey said the railroad company reacted promptly to correct the problem.
"They connected to our sewer and put in a dump station that is easy to use," Lamey said. The dump station is a "hose that they connect from their tank to a pipe" that drains into the sanitary sewer.
The company also paid $750 for a tap-on permit to the sewage system, Lamey said.
Rush, the Corman company spokesman, said, "The fact is that we became aware of the gray-water disposal violation and promptly took corrective action and we abated the violation a couple of days" after receiving a citation from the city.
The city is satisfied with how the company addressed the problem, Lamey said. The company has until next week to respond to the state's notice of violation.
R.J. Corman Railroad Group is based in Nicholasville. The Lexington dinner train began making treks from a station behind Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington to Versailles on August 14, 2013. Nine days later, R.J. Corman, the Jessamine County entrepreneur who started the railroad company, died at age 58 of multiple myeloma.
Another tourist excursion owned by the Corman company, My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, began taking passengers from Bardstown to Bullitt County in 1988.
Lexington's first settlers found fresh water along Town Branch in 1775. Today it flows underground from its source near the Jif peanut butter plant along Midland Avenue, then crosses Main Street and runs roughly along Vine Street to west of Rupp Arena. It comes into view as an exposed stream at Cox Street.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has put $10 million into his budget for Town Branch Commons, a long linear park with a network of pools, fountains and pocket parks stretching from the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third and Midland to Cox Street near the rail yard.
The Urban County Council will not take a final vote on the proposed $323 million budget until the end of June.