The time limit for restoring Steam Locomotive 509 to running condition is drawing near, and the old engine still sits in Central City Park, with only a tarp shielding it from further corrosion.
In May 2011, Macon agreed to lease the engine and attached coal car to Hartwell Railroad Co. for 30 years at $1 per year. In exchange, the Bowersville company offered to rebuild the locomotive as an excursion train for use mostly on its north Georgia lines, with discounted trips to Macon residents at least twice a year.
The contract approved by Macon City Council gave Hartwell three years to restore the engine, which has been parked since 1956. That three-year period runs out May 11, according to Macon-Bibb County Attorney Judd Drake.
I have not heard anything further on it, he said via email.
When the deal was made, Hartwell representative Jason Sobczynski said restoration could cost up to $450,000. Hartwell projected perhaps a year of work before the engine was running again.
About the start of 2012, workers arrived to remove paint and asbestos from the engine. That was a necessary preparation for restoration, but it also left the metal exposed to weather, and it quickly began to rust.
In 2013, city and county officials got sporadic assurances from Hartwell that restoration work would begin soon. Nothing has happened since. But now a Hartwell official has offered comment on the restoration.
Plans are still in place to do it, and were trying to move forward on that as fast as we can, said Dave Bishop, Hartwells general manager.
But he would give no timeline for further work, even in light of the deadline two months away, saying only that the company was already involved in several other projects.
Meanwhile, the Coastal Heritage Society -- which operates the Georgia state railroad museum -- reiterated that there is another alternative for engine 509.
Our offer still stands to make a space for it here at the Georgia state railroad museum, said Terry Koller, the societys director of Railroad Operations.
In 2012 the society sent a letter to Macon offering to house the engine in the museums roundhouse if Hartwell didnt come through.
But while that would protect it from further deterioration, it would cost about $40,000 to move the engine and perhaps $1 million to restore it to Federal Railroad Administration standards, society President Scott Smith said months ago. The group couldnt pay either amount, he said.
From July 2012 until January 2014, the city owned the locomotive while the county owned the park in which it sits. But with the merger of Macon and Bibb County, the new government controls both.
Macon-Bibb County assumed responsibility for all agreements made by the previous governments, including the Hartwell contract.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.