Western Maryland Scenic: 1309 project “is eating us out of house and home”

Work on 2-6-6-2 steam locomotive still on track for completion; to be "better than new"
RELATED TOPICS: STEAM/PRESERVATION | EAST | HISTORICAL
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Steam locomotive restoration specialist Gary Bensman cuts out staybolts for replacement on Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 on Tuesday, May 9.
TRAINS: Jim Wrinn
CUMBERLAND, Md. — The cost of restoring former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 continues to rise, but John Garner, superintendent of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad said Aug. 1 that he's determined to see the project through.

“The 1309 project has been a huge project that's eating us out of house and home,” Garner told Trains News Wire. “However unfortunate it may be, that's the gospel truth.”

The price tag now is $1.8 million.

Speaking on local radio station WCBC's morning talk show on July 26, Garner said, “I'm going to say you will see steam by the end of September, but that hinges on the outcome of these tests.”

Boiler work has been completed, and the next step is a mandatory hydrostatic test in the next two or three weeks.

However, restoration has been set back again after contractors found corrosion pits on the locomotive's axles. They will have to be turned on a lathe, which means wheel boxes and crank pins will have to be rebuilt as well.

Because of the delay, Western Maryland Scenic and Trains Magazine announced earlier that photo charters scheduled for November have been postponed until 2018.

The railroad purchased No. 1309 from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in the summer of 2014. Garner became superintendent two years later. When asked if he had been superintendent in 2014, would he have bought the locomotive?

“No,” Garner said. No. “1309 is a magnificent locomotive, however I think it is 'way too much of a locomotive for us. I think I would have restored 734. It's much more appropriate for us.”

Garner said former Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 No. 734, has been “the star of the show” since operations began in 1988. No. 734 was taken out of service in April 2016 for its federally mandated 1,472-day inspection. Restoration will cost $1.2 million.

Garner also said that Western Maryland Scenic has been rebuilding its passenger car fleet to make them comply with Federal Railroad Administration regulations. Six cars have been restored, others are on the repair-in-place track waiting disposition. The railroad received a $250,000-grant from the state of Maryland for passenger car restoration. Garner said car repairs costs range from $300,000 to $600,000.

“WMSR does not have the funds to do heavy rebuilds on passenger cars,” Garner told WCBC. “The days of 14-car trains, 1,000 passengers a train, those days are over for now. We know we can do better, and as time and money permit, we'll acquire additional equipment and bring more riders to Allegany County.” Cumberland is the county seat of Allegany County.

Garner told News Wire that ridership was up 42 percent from 2016, but slightly less than the number of riders in 2015. Revenue from ticket-buying customers is critical to continued work on No. 1309. Right now trains are carrying 150 to 200 passengers per trip. Total capacity of the train is 350.

“We're hanging in there, but with the additional costs of restoring the locomotive, insurance costs, and maintenance on equipment,” Garner said. “We have done a boatload of right-of-way maintenance.”

On the talk show, Garner said the railroad is taking the time to make sure the restoration is done right, not something that will have to be re-done later.

“We have done our best to make sure this locomotive is better than new,” Garner said. “This is going to be a huge draw to Allegany County. Our team wants to make sure we put our best foot forward, that we're representing Allegany County and the state of Maryland to people as far away as Japan and Australia.

“It's all about making sure we do it the right way, so were going to do it right the first time,” Garner said.

CORRECTION: The radio station's call letters are WCBC. They were incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story. Aug. 2, 2017, 9:16 a.m.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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