The SEPTA Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, Ohio is a medium-security facility that houses non-violent, male felony offenders. Part of the program consists of a minimum of 20 hours service, working at various locations around Athens County.
SEPTA inmates are a critical component of the extensive restoration of the railroad at the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway (HVSR), also in Nelsonville. Working alongside volunteers, their work typically involves pulling and replacing old railroad ties or clearing brush and trees alongside the track.
Many of the volunteers have a history working on the railroad and, for them, it serves as a way to keep active. For the inmates, it means an opportunity to get outside of the facility for the better part of a day and a chance at a better lunch or some cigarettes.
Railroads have been a major part of Ohio’s economy during the past two centuries and, as a result, the HVSR is a main attraction in the area, beginning operation in 1972. The track was originally built in 1864 and has operated under many names taking passengers between Athens and Columbus, transporting materials like coal or clay and now running tourist trains.
With the age of the rail system, the trains and track have deteriorated significantly; however, the work of volunteers and the SEPTA inmates allows the trains to keep running in Southeast Ohio.