Settlement gives Coalition for Sustainable Rail ownership of steam locomotive

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A view of Santa Fe 4-6-4 No. 3463 in Chicago in the late 1940s.
Coalition for Sustainable Rail website; photo from the Warren M. Scholl collection
TOPEKA, Kan. – A lawsuit disputing the ownership of a Santa Fe steam locomotive has been resolved in favor of the Coalition for Sustainable Rail. Since 2012, the Minnesota-based group has been attempting to move 4-6-4 No. 3463 and use it to demonstrate advanced steam technologies. Coalition for Sustainable Rail purchased the locomotive in 2013, but a local citizens group filed lawsuit attempting to stop the locomotive's removal. This week's settlement represents an agreement between Coalition for Sustainable Rail, the City of Topeka, the Attorney General of Kansas, and the Great Overland Station

The conclusion of the lawsuit clears the way for the Coalition for Sustainable Rail to begin fundraising efforts to cosmetically restore No. 3463 and move it to a location in Kansas that offers more protection from the elements. In the months to come, the Coalition for Sustainable Rail will decide whether to restore it to operable condition pending the results of a mechanical examination.

"We are in the beginning process of fundraising to move the locomotive. That process has been on hold since legal action began," says Coalition for Sustainable Rail President Davidson Ward, "We have a few spots that we are investigating as possible locations to move the locomotive. Now that the ownership is clarified, we're going to dig deep in terms of finalizing agreements for those properties."

Since the legal action began, the Coalition for Sustainable Rail has had the opportunity to test its biofuels in the steam locomotives at the Milwaukee Zoo and obtained a grant to build a steam-powered electrical generator.

"Our original goal was to use it as a test bed, but we were able to do the testing elsewhere, so now this becomes more tourist-based," Coalition for Sustainable Rail Senior Mechanical Engineer Wolf Fengler says. "We did a running gear inspection as best we could do crawling under the locomotive while it was in the park. When we get it a bit more apart and we have the ultrasound boiler in data in hand, that will help us better estimate what restoring it to operable condition would cost."

The Coalition for Sustainable Rail will also consider long-term opportunities to operate the locomotive and whether the Topeka area can economically sustain a tourist railroad while deciding whether or not to restore No. 3463. If Coalition for Sustainable Rail does decide to restore it to operable condition, Fengler says, the group will abandon its original plans to convert the locomotive to burn solid fuels.

"From logistical point of view, there are good reason why railroads in the west switched to oil," Fengler says. "If we were to restore the 3463, keeping it as a liquid fuel burner –we are open to using biofuel or other petroleum alternatives – makes more sense in Kansas, especially if we someday had the opportunity to take it on a long trip."

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