November 10, 2012

Six bids to restore Old 470 locomotive to be considered by Waterville City Council

Only one proposal comes from Maine; none would keep historic steam engine in central Maine

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- The city has received six proposals to move the Old 470 steam locomotive out of Waterville permanently and restore it -- and only one is from a Maine entity, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

click image to enlarge

The Old 470 locomotive was the last steam engine used for passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

The city-owned engine is deteriorating on state-owned land off College Avenue, and the city cannot afford the $1 million or more to repair it.

So city officials advertised for proposals to buy or restore the engine and were surprised to see the level of interest, especially from out of state, Roy said.

"One is from Maine, one from Massachusetts, one from New Hampshire, two from Ohio and one from Pennsylvania," he said. "None of the proposals to date allows for the steam engine to remain in central Maine. People want to relocate it and fix it up and display it somewhere else."

The last steam engine used for passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad, Old 470 made its final trip through Waterville -- from Portland to Bangor -- on June 13, 1954.

It was built in 1924 by American Locomotive Co. and given to the city Oct. 28, 1962, as a gift by Maine Central Railroad on its 100th anniversary.

The steam engine has deteriorated over time because of exposure to harsh weather, unsupervised visitors, vandals and thieves. Efforts to restore the rusty locomotive have been unsuccessful.

Roy said a committee made up of city staffers, a city councilor and members of the public is evaluating the proposals and will make a recommendation to the City Council.

"Ultimately, our goal would be to see the steam engine repaired and an appropriate home, place, viewing area created somewhere in central Maine for it to be housed; but we know that's completely unrealistic," Roy said. Proposals the city received are from railroad enthusiasts and nonprofit corporations formed for the purpose of preserving railroad passenger train history, he said.

Some want to use it for nonprofit, limited train service to promote tourism, he said.

Two proposals offered payment to the city for the locomotive, he added. Roy said he would not disclose how much they offered or who they are while the proposals are being evaluated. The committee will look closely at those who offered to buy the engine, to determine viability of the proposals, he said.

"I was surprised that there were organizations that actually maintain these types of equipment and that they would come from so far away -- Pennsylvania, Ohio -- to pick up a piece of equipment and transport it halfway across the country and restore it," he said.

The city is trying to ensure the appropriate entity is chosen to restore the engine, especially if it is to be taken out of the state, he said.

"I think the No. 1 goal is to restore it and keep it in Maine. It's not something the city of Waterville is looking to really make money on. We just hope it can be restored and maintained as an important reminder of that bygone era."

He said he does not know when the committee will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will make the final decision on the fate of the Old 470.

Roy said people are welcome to contact him or City Engineer Greg Brown with questions about the locomotive or the process for considering what to do with it.

Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan, who helped advertise and coordinate the effort to obtain proposals, said the engine is in terrible shape and poses a safety hazard. He said the best scenario would be to restore it and keep it in the city.

"I think we'd all feel a lot better about it if that were the case," he said.

Amy Calder -- 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

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