Western Maryland 1309 project halts again for need of funding

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Just last week the 56-inch drivers went back into No. 1309's front engine. Now the project has stopped for lack of money.
Tishia Boggs
RIDGELEY, W.Va. — Work on Western Maryland 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 has come to a halt as funding for the project has run out once more.

Work stopped after the Diversified Rail Services crew installed the drivers into the front engine last week. “We need to raise the remaining funds so the contractor can come back,” Executive Director John Garner said Friday.

A last remaining part for the rear engine, a driving box, must be purchased from a foundry at a cost of $39,000, then machined and installed. At that time, the boiler can be set on both engines and final piping and assembly can move forward. A crane company has offered to donate the lift. Once on its wheels, there’s eight to 12 weeks of work to get the engine ready for testing.

Hampering the effort has been the 2018 employee theft of running gear parts and the overall condition of the locomotive when it was acquired in 2014.

The parts theft complicated running gear repairs — the stolen brass was valued at the price of scrap, but the new parts must be carefully crafted and machined for fit and heavy use at great expense.

"The project, and the locomotive, has been dealt multiple bad hands since this initiative began,” says preservationist Jason Sobczynski, who worked on the locomotive. “But thanks to Diversified Rail Services and John Garner, the locomotive is very close to completion. In fact, had it not been for the bronze theft consuming available financial resources, it would have been running 4-5 months ago.”

After five years of work and more than $2.7 million, the project needs between $100,000 and $150,000 to finish the engine and another $80,000 to install a coal storage and ash removal system required by West Virginia environmental regulations, Garner says. That's about 8 percent of the total cost of the project.

“The engine was in much worse shape than believed when the restoration began,” Garner says. “We’re hoping that our supporters, the people who want to see the engine back in steam, will push us over the top.”

Until more money is raised for the engine, the railroad is focusing on a tie renewal program that local governments are funding for the county-owned right of way. It’s also working to build up its own operating funds in a year when ridership has been off significantly. Next week, for the first time, Western Maryland Scenic will offer tickets for Polar Express trains that will run later this fall.

But there is still great desire to see No. 1309 back, because it would be a major attraction on several levels. No. 1309 is a 1949 Baldwin product that was the last engine the iconic steam locomotive manufacturer made for domestic use. Chesapeake & Ohio operated the engine into 1956, and its return to service at Western Maryland Scenic is seen as a potential breakthrough for the tourist railroad. In operation, No. 1309 will be the only articulated in regular operation in the Eastern U.S., and the world’s largest operating compound Mallet — that is a locomotive that uses its steam twice to drive two sets of cylinders.

For now, mostly completed, No. 1309 waits inside the former Western Maryland car shop at Ridgeley, W.Va., near Cumberland, waiting to see if people who care about steam step forward.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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  • August 24, 2019
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