Decision looms for troubled Texas Ten-Wheeler

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L&A 4-6-0 No. 503 awaits a decision in Port Arthur, Texas.
Courtesey of Jason Sobczynski
PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS — The fate of a troubled Texas Ten-Wheeler that appeared headed for the scrap yard earlier this year will be decided Tuesday. That’s when the Port Arthur City Council will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. to vote on the future of Louisiana & Arkansas No. 503.

In mid February, the Port Arthur News reported that the city had decided to scrap the engine due to concerns that it had begun leaking oil and asbestos after being flooded during Hurricane Harvey. The paper reported that demolition equipment had been moved on site.

Two preservationists, Jason Sobcynski and Nick Hovey, set up a $50,000 Go Fund Me stating that the city had transferred ownership of the locomotive to a demolition company, Inland Environmentals. The sum, later raised to $65,000 after the scrap value of the engine turned out to be higher than thought, would cover buying the locomotive from the company and moving it temporary storage at the Texas State Railroad.

Donations exceeded the revised goal, but last week, the Port Arthur City Council stated that the city still owns the locomotive and set a vote to address its future.

City Councilman Harold Doucet Sr., who called the meeting, told Trains that the engine is safe from scrapping and that the decision is whether to keep it or let it go. “At this point, cutting the 503 up is not on the table,” Doucet said. “I’m concerned that the citizens get to have their say on whether or not it leaves Port Arthur. If they’re resigned to let the preservations take it, at no cost to the taxpayer, we’ll have to let it go.”

Doucet says that Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s deadline for removing or remediating the locomotive is in mid April. The Go Fund Me had originally indicated late February as the deadline to save the locomotive. If the city council does vote to keep it in Port Arthur, it will likely cost $250,000 to move it to a different location and remediate the environmental contamination at its current display site.

Sobcynski and Hovey’'s plans call for eventually moving the 503 to the Orlando & Northwestern Railroad north of Orlando, Fla. There, it will be returned to operable service, but the funds raised so only provided for moving the 503 out of Port Arthur; a full restoration may cost around a million dollars.

In the last update posted to the Go Fund Me page, Sobcynski and Hovey urged members of the public to email the Port Arthur city council in support of the 503. More than 1,200 individuals contributed to the fundraising campaign. The project brought a groundswell of support and endorsement from across the railroad preservation community.

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