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Renewed hope for effort to save Carbonear locomotive from scrapyard

The Carbonear town council voted in November to send CNA locomotive 803 to the scrapyard due to safety concerns and costly renovations. For some in the town, the decision to bid farewell to what they say is a piece of Newfoundland's railway history is disappointing.  (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
The Carbonear town council voted in November to send CNA locomotive 803 to the scrapyard due to safety concerns and costly renovations. For some in the town, the decision to bid farewell to what they say is a piece of Newfoundland's railway history is disappointing. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

When word got out that Carbonear town council had voted to discard one of the town's historic locomotives, Darrell Steele says he knew he had to do something to stop it from happening.

Steele, who grew up in Carbonear, says he remembers watching the Canadian National Railway Locomotive 803 ride the tracks when he was a child in the small town. He says CNA engine 803, an old 800-horsepower locomotive, is one of two engines of its kind left in Canada, and the only one left in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Carbonear town council voted in November to send CNA locomotive 803 to the scrapyard due to safety concerns and costly renovations. For Steele, the decision to bid farewell to the engine is reprehensible.

"It's a sin to see her come to this, that she'd be scrapped," said Steele, a self-proclaimed amateur railway historian. "I really don't want to see 803 destroyed. She's got a lot of history behind her."

Steele created an online petition urging the town to save and restore CNA locomotive 803. He says he hopes the petition, which has around 1,300 signatures, will pressure town council to reconsider its decision.

Fortunately for Steele and many others, the town now says there's hope for the engine.

Safety concerns and costly renovations

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

Steele, who has a YouTube channel called Exploring the Newfoundland Railway, says engine 803 was built in the 1950s, where it was used by the Canadian National Railway to serve branchlines to Carbonear, Argentia and Bonavista.

CNA 803 had its last run in Carbonear in 1984 and was retired in 1986. The engine has been on display in the town since 1989 and currently sits near the Carbonear Railway Station. But after decades of neglect, it has fallen into disrepair.

"It is rusted, there are jagged pieces of metal there," said Carbonear Mayor Frank Butt, standing in front of the derelict engine.

Butt says town council unanimously voted to remove the locomotive because of safety concerns and the high cost to restore the engine. He says the locomotive is an aging structure that is very rusted, and that the engine's paint may have traces of lead in it, which would be challenging to remove safely.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

He also says the cost to repair locomotive 803 is more than $100,000, a price tag the town of just under 5,000 on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula can't afford.

But, he says, there's still hope for 803's survival. The council is reconsidering its decision to remove the locomotive, says Butt, largely due to the public's overwhelming response urging the town to save it.

He says the biggest issue is finding the funding to restore the engine — he says the town could possibly provide $20,000 but more funding would be needed to preserve this piece of Newfoundland's railway history.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

"I don't want it to go, no," said Butt. "It's a piece of our history, it's a great tourist attraction, I see many people getting pictures taken there."

Next year, Carbonear will be celebrating 75 years of being incorporated as a town, so there's hope that the locomotive will be restored by then. In the meantime, Steele says he hopes to work with others to raise money to restore the engine to somewhere near its original state.

"I'd like to see it preserved for future generations to love and enjoy and instead of, you know, destroying history, destroying our heritage," said Steele, "I think it should be saved and preserved as long as possible so everybody can enjoy it."

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