Full Steam Ahead On Locomotive Restoration?

One of Nashville’s oldest park displays might be leaving the friendly confines of Centennial Park, as the steam locomotive in the park might become the newest steam locomotive in the US to be restored to operating order.

The newly-formed Nashville Steam Preservation Society is the newest group to bring the idea to the Parks Council of Metro Nashville. The last attempt was in 2001, but the council voted the idea down. When asked about what was different this time, NSPS President and Chairman and local native Shane Meador stated, “The Music City Star [commuter train to Lebanon] hadn’t happened yet, so the Nashville and Eastern was not capable of supporting the operations of a large steam locomotive.” Those close to the organization believe that this is best opportunity of any to

576 in her operating days. Courtesy of NC&StL Historical Society
576 in her operating days. Courtesy of NC&StL Historical Society

complete this monumental task. Members of the NSPS are some of the most well-respected members of the steam locomotive restoration and historic railroad community, giving more credibility to this attempt.

“The opportunity to ride a steam train out of Riverfront Park could be a much richer experience than the current static observation available in Centennial Park and is worthy of consideration,” said Parks Director Tommy Lynch in a prepared statement.

While the engine has spent most of its modern life known as “The Centennial Park Train”, it began its life as Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis J-3 “Dixie” Class locomotive #576. It is the only one of the 20 locomotives built in 1942 for the NC&StL remaining to this day. It operated for 10 years before being retired when diesel-electric engines took over on the railroad. At full speed, it could consume 4 tons of coal and 7,000 gallons of water an hour. During its time operating, it was reported the engine could pull 15 passenger cars or 50 freight cars. While the other 19 sister locomotives were scrapped, the 576 was saved and placed in Centennial Park across from the old NC&StL yard in Nashville.

The NSPS is aiming to raise a total of 5 million dollars. Of that 5 million dollars, 3 million will go towards the restoration of the locomotive itself, while the other 2 million will go to construction a building where the engine could be presented to the public and necessary repairs can be completed. The building will be near the Tennessee Central Railway Museum off of Willow Street in Nashville.

“We’re not going to touch this project unless we have at least $500,000 in initial capital, which will basically pay for the move to [the museum]… and maintain $100,000 escrow so that in the worst-case scenario, we can put the locomotive back in better condition than we found it,” said Meador.

If approved, the restoration would begin this fall and take four to five years with plans for excursions to begin in 2020 over the Nashville and Eastern, a shortline railroad from Riverfront Station in Nashville to Cookeville. The engine would be the 6th operating steam locomotive in Tennessee, but the first in Middle Tennessee.

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