PA Council to listen to the public on No. 503 at next meeting

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The citizens of Port Arthur will soon get a chance to make their feelings known regarding the fate of Kansas City Southern’s Arkansas & Louisiana No. 503 locomotive housed at Bryan Park on Gulfway Drive in Port Arthur.

Harold Doucet Sr., District 4 city councilman, requested a discussion about the abatement, remediation and related matters to the 503 at the regular meeting of the Port Arthur City Council Tuesday night. After the discussion and a presentation the Council approved scheduling a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at city hall to receive public comments and make a decision about the locomotive.

The 503 suffered for 60 years from exposure to the elements, especially salt air. Concerns about the engine arose most recently in connection with Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey, mostly because there was a fear that flooding would carry asbestos and oil into neighboring yards and houses.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Since then, Next Generation Rail Services in Avalon, Kentucky, made plans to move the locomotive first to Rusk, Texas, and ultimately to a tourist railroad where it would be operational when it reaches Florida.

Doucet said there have been “mislabeled facts” in the media about the locomotive being decided upon in executive session because the Council never made a decision behind closed doors regarding 503. He added that a decision must be voted on in the open. What was discussed behind closed doors was information on what to do about Texas Commission on Environmental Quality violations.

“We need to decide what we need to do and where we are,” he said.

George Newsome, with SOUTEX Surveyors, said he spoke with Trans Global Solutions, a railroad contractor, and the Texas Railroad Museum in Rusk on what to do with 503, particularly immediate concerns with TCEQ to move it and remediate the soil underneath.

Newsome said one of the least expensive ways is to lay some track and move the engine forward toward Houston Avenue. The cost to do that would be $45,000. Remediation is another cost altogether.

If the city wants to keep 503, remediate the soil and abate the lead paint, it would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

“The train ain’t going nowhere until Council makes a decision,” Doucet said.

In other Council business, Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 city councilman, gave a presentation for a referendum petition to amend the electrical code. This would allow licensed journeyman and licensed residential wireman to pull permits after passing the loading test. The estimated cost for a referendum election is $98,000.

Lewis said he needs to collect 1,400 signatures on the petition to place it on the May ballot. He added that he’s been working on this proposal for more than a year and this is the final phase of placing it on the ballot to let the citizens decide.

“I’m tired of fooling with them (the council). There was a vote to null this, not kill it,” he said.

Lewis said Osman Swati, District 6 city councilman, said this was a conflict of interest because Lewis’ brothers were on the list. He said Swati displayed “the most unethical behavior” by saying that. Swati was absent at Tuesday’s night meeting.

Lewis said he has three pages of licensed journeymen and licensed linemen who live in Port Arthur, but have to pay a master electrician to pull permits.

“What’s wrong with putting our people to work?” he asked.

His plan is to require the licensed journeymen and licensed linemen to take and pass a loading test.

None of the Councilmember spoke after Lewis’ presentation.