CUMBERLAND — Officials with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad announced Thursday they are postponing the July debut of the Baldwin Steam Engine No. 1309.
The refurbish and return to service of the massive steam engine has been delayed multiple times since the 1949 locomotive was purchased five years ago.
John Garner, WMSR general manager, said the train still has mechanical issues that require work. He said the highly-anticipated July debut will not happen.
“Originally we were talking about a July 6 date (for the debut),” said Garner. “There are a couple of things that we got into discovering, between the work we’ve done earlier and the machine shop in Ohio that found some things.”
An update on the scenic railroad operations was given Thursday at the Allegany County Office Complex on Kelly Road.
In addition to the postponement of the return of Engine No. 1309, dubbed Maryland Thunder, Allegany County received more bad news in regard to the condition of the WMSR’s rail lines which span from Cumberland to the Frostburg Depot.
“The track itself is property of Allegany County,” said Brandon Butler, county administrator. “With that, there is some TLC (tender loving care) needed for the rails. We are looking at the reports. We are looking at about 1,200 ties that look like they are in need of replacement as soon as possible.”
Butler said Engine No. 1309, billed the largest articulated steam locomotive east of the Mississippi River, adds a significant increase in weight for the train.
“The steam engine is larger and heavier than the current locomotive that runs up and down those tracks,” said Butler.
Officials said the cost will be roughly $150,000 for 1,200 ties, spikes, plates, weed spraying and inspections.
“We also have some preventative weed spraying which needs to take place, which is $26,000, but that has come in lower than expected,” said Butler. “There is also an issue of a bridge inspection that is in order of about $25,000. All in all, you are looking at $150,000 to spend.”
Butler said he spoke with officials from the city of Cumberland and Frostburg about contributing to the repair costs.
“Given the fact they are partners and beneficiaries of this endeavor, they have looked at splitting the cost,” he said. “Roughly, it is a $45,000 expenditure to the county and $22,500 from Frostburg and Cumberland.”
Butler said the remaining $60,000 will come from a public/private partnership of the WMSR.
The members of the Allegany County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously, in Thursday evenings regular public county meeting, to fund the $45,000.
Allegany County Commissioner Dave Caporale asked about the timeline for repairing the tracks.
“This is now,” said Garner. “It should take about a month.”
Garner said the work will take place during the week limiting the impact to the WMSR operating schedule, which currently uses diesel locomotives to pull the train.
“We are having some challenge in getting the ties here in a timely fashion,” said Garner. “We won’t miss operating days; we’ll do maintenance through the week and run on the weekends.”
Garner said the use of diesel locomotives has had some impact on ridership.
“We are about 20% down from last year,” he said. “But, we fully believe everyone is waiting for this (steam) locomotive (No. 1309) to come out.”
Despite the setbacks, officials remain determined to see the tracks repaired and Engine No. 1309 running.
“The scenic railroad is one of our largest attractions,” said Butler. “The whole reason we have hotel/motel tax (income) is in large part due to the railroad with the folks that do come up here.”
Commissioner Creade Brodie Jr. said track maintenance for the WMSR, which opened in 1988, has been lacking.
“I don’t believe there has been any major track or tie repair work done in the history of the railroad,” said Brodie. “We do take this very seriously and we want to help you get this steam locomotive up and running as soon as possible. We need to come up with some sort of legacy plan for the railroad. This is a Band-Aid on a bigger picture.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.