Locomotive restoration costs may hamper Western Maryland operations

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1309 Restoration Update from Western Maryland Scenic Railroad on Vimeo.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad may gain a locomotive but lose the railroad itself, if costs of restoration outstrip the funds to pay for them, Western Maryland’s General Manager John Garner said on Aug. 7.

“I'm a realist,” Garner said. “At some point in time, we are going to run out of money. We're looking to be able to finish the locomotive, but there's that chance we're going to be hung up on something else.”

“Something else” may be another unexpected and costly repair that will drive restoration of former Chesapeake & Ohio No. 1309 higher than the $1.8 million that the railroad has already sunk into the project. Western Maryland officials have dubbed the locomotive “Maryland Thunder,” a nod to its workhorse 2-8-0 No. 734, which is nick-named Mountain Thunder, but is now out-of-service.

Restoration had another setback in late July, when restoration crews discovered corrosion on the axle boxes. Garner said the axles will have to be sent out to be machined, adding two or three months to the project at a cost of some $200,000.

Garner said that cash flow is a constant concern. The railroad draws money from operating revenue, but there are few other sources to tap. Western Maryland received a $400,000-grant from the state of Maryland for fiscal year 2017. There are no grants in the current state budget, so any future grants would only be available starting July 1, 2018.

The railroad is ready to once again accept public donations, Garner said. The WMSR Foundation has been dormant for two years, and donation links on its website did not function.

Friends and fans of No. 1309 may now contribute online.

“At some point in time we're going to have to get the word out that our systems are up and functioning, and our foundation is respectable now,” Garner said. “I've been telling my friends, if you really love and want to support the Western Maryland, the best thing you can do is to buy a ticket.”

There is a special opportunity to buy a ticket this week. The Western Maryland Scenic is hosting a shop tour on Aug. 12 that will give visitors a up-close view of the progress on No. 1309. Tickets are $40.49, and available online.

For those who can't make the tour, Western Maryland officials recently produced an online video from the railroad's shop, with Garner standing in front of 1309 to explain the status of the project.

He says wants to be as transparent as possible about the restoration, and that the railroad didn't intend to mislead people by announcing, then canceling, a number of completion dates.

“This is a restoration process that has taken a lot of patience and a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of dedication from the people who are working on it,” Garner says on the video. “We're very thankful for you understanding what we’re going through here. It was not our intent to post these dates only to miss them. We want to deliver a quality locomotive. It is our goal here on the Western Maryland to make Maryland Thunder the best locomotive it can be. We want to do it right the first time.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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