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Published: Wednesday, 3/21/2001

South Toledo-bound caboose causes concern in Waterville

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The caboose showed up mysteriously several days ago in Waterville, and its sudden appearance ruffled some feathers. Folks thought it marked the return of the tourist excursion train known as the Bluebird.

Because of past problems with the train's operation, some residents and village officials are opposed to the Bluebird's return to the village. However, the caboose does not belong to the Toledo, Lake Erie and Western Railway and Museum, Inc., which runs the excursion train, or Norfolk Southern, owner of the rail yard where the caboose was parked a few days ago.

William Linebaugh, TLEW president, said the caboose is privately owned. The caboose was removed from property near the Waterville industrial park, but it was not immediately known who relocated it to the rail yard near the village's Conrad Park.

Yesterday, workers loaded the caboose onto a truck and hauled it to a site along the Anthony Wayne Trail, south of South Avenue. The caboose is now near a locomotive at the site.

Last year, Cliff Perry, a suburban Cleveland resident who is proprietor of the Toledo Central Railroad, announced plans to start operating a tourist excursion train over a mile of track in South Toledo.

Mr. Perry, who is general manager of the Trolleyville USA museum and excursion line in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, said yesterday that some coach cars soon would join the locomotive and caboose, with the excursion train set to begin operation April 1.

Robert Brooks, a Toledoan who founded the Bluebird line in 1969, said the caboose was sold recently to Mr. Perry. The caboose, he said, is in excellent condition.

Mr. Brooks, who is applying for membership in the Toledo Central Railroad, said he would do everything he can to help make the new excursion train successful.

The membership application form states that, “Each year, we hope thousands of visitors, from railway buffs to professional railroad people, will visit us.”

Meantime, the Bluebird excursion train, which had its wings clipped a couple of years ago in Waterville, will be coming back to the community, but no lease has been signed yet between Norfolk Southern and TLEW. The lease will be signed soon, but it will be a “substantial time” before excursions resume, Mr. Linebaugh said.

When the Bluebird comes back, the village will be monitoring its operation closely, according to Thomas Mattis, municipal administrator.

Residents who live near the rail yard also plan to keep an eye on the train, which is operated by a nonprofit group of volunteers.

The Bluebird lost its lease in 1998 after the village said the rail yard was full of litter and debris and was a potential threat to public safety.

The train had shuttled passengers between Waterville and Grand Rapids, Ohio.

At a public meeting last fall, Waterville residents discussed the return of the Bluebird and listed issues stemming from past problems with the train, such as trash littering the public right of way, piles of railroad ties in which skunks and other animals had made their homes, excessive blowing of the engine horn, and lack of continuity in the TLEW leadership.

Paul and Lori Rochte, who live on North Sixth Street near the rail yard, are concerned about the train's return.

The couple would like to see the rail yard leased to the village rather than TLEW. Unless the village can control the train's operations, problems likely will continue, they said.

Many problems, such as those related to noise and litter, stem from the location of the rail yard in a residential area, Mr. Mattis said.

Officials would be more willing to support the train if it relocated to a more conducive site in the village's industrial park, he said.

The village is “trying to be open to working together” with TLEW officials, Mr. Mattis said.

It would be “nice to have a great little train here,” he said, but the group must respect neighboring property owners and residents.

“If they do that, we can co-exist,” he said.

Although there have been problems in Waterville, the train has continued to operate out of Grand Rapids, running between that community and Waterville Township.

Plans call for excursion runs between the two villages to resume after facilities in Waterville have been upgraded, Mr. Linebaugh said. Restoration work and preventative maintenance on the depot and tracks will be done, he said.

Last year in Grand Rapids, the Bluebird had a 66 per cent increase in ridership over the previous season, Mr. Linebaugh said. During the excursion train's Halloween season, more than 3,000 passengers rode the train, he said.

Excursions in Grand Rapids will resume May 5. One-hour trips will be offered on the regular runs.



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