Without Sobczynski, No. 503 was doomed

Published 8:42 am Monday, March 12, 2018


Six weeks after the city of Port Arthur contracted to demolish Locomotive 503; three weeks after the historic locomotive might have been cut into pieces and removed from its current location, if not for outside intervention; members of the City Council decided what to do about the engine that’s been rotting away for years in a District 4 city park: Let the citizens handle it.

That’s a fact.

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Despite the smoke city leaders were puffing at citizens last week about a public hearing and council members not yet making any final decision on the engine’s fate until a March 6 meeting, city leaders sought bids in autumn 2017 for companies to:

  • Remove and dispose of asbestos from 503.
  • Demolish the locomotive (our italics) and the rails under it.

Three companies submitted bids to do just that; the low bidder was Inland Environments based in Kingwood. Interim City Manager Harvey Robinson signed the contract in January.

Under terms of the contract was item No. 2: “The Contractor will perform work in proper removal and disposal of asbestos containing material, demolition of train and rails and provide soil remediation and testing.”

Confused? Why was the City Council pondering something March 6 that the city itself had decided six weeks before? That’s politics for you. Citizens, upon learning the locomotive’s fate, were angry. Politicians started backtracking.

Inland Environments wasn’t confused. Here’s part of what the company promised to do for the city of Port Arthur in its Nov. 7 2017 bid and what the city agreed to: “Inland will provide demolition of train and rails and removal from the property.”

AAR of Houston and Sitek of Humble, which also bid on the project, promised similar demolition services.

Because Inland Environment’s bid was under $25,000, the locomotive’s fate was sealed behind closed doors.

When we visited the locomotive site on a rainy Feb. 12 afternoon, the locomotive was being prepared for asbestos removal. A wrecking ball was on the site. A contractor said it would be gone within a week.

When we visited Feb. 16, we met Jason Sobczynski of Next Generation Rail Services, who’d driven here from his company’s train rehab job in Grapevine, Texas to see if the rare steam locomotive could be spared from the fate Port Arthur planned for it. He initiated a GoFundMe account that day, pleading for rail enthusiasts around the country to donate funds to save the 503. Donors responded. The scrapper, then the city, relented. Without Sobczynski’s intervention, No. 503 was a goner.

Councilman Harold Doucet seemed to mock Sobczynski when the Kentuckian suggested at the Tuesday hearing that his intervention saved the 503. But Sobczynski is right. His plausible plan to move the locomotive out of Port Arthur may not prevail, but his efforts here stayed the 503’s execution.