Although some Waterville elected officials were pleased to hear that the Bluebird passenger train is under new leadership that is working to make improvements, they continued to raise concerns about issues including repairs to a railroad crossing in the city.
Mayor Derek Merrin said he is excited that the Toledo, Lake Erie & Western Railway of Waterville, commonly known as the Bluebird train, is making progress to get back on track but said repairing a crossing on Waterville-Monclova Road, where some vehicles have been damaged as they went over the rough area, is the railway's legal responsibility.
Lillian Mandler of Perrysburg, one of the volunteers for the railroad, asked city officials about any possible grants or other funds that could be directed to the Bluebird, but Mr. Merrin said the city does not have any money to provide for the excursion train.
She wondered whether the Bluebird was near enough to the city's downtown to be eligible for downtown redevelopment funds.
The train hasn't operated in about 18 months, but she said the new leadership is confident the Bluebird will again carry passengers through a scenic portion of this area.
Mrs. Mandler told council that the railroad is here and it's here forever.
Mrs. Mandler, who emphasized that the Bluebird is working to be a good neighbor in Waterville, said tourist railroads are growing by leaps and bounds and said the Bluebird could draw thousands of passengers who would spend an estimated $42 each in Waterville's downtown.
Councilman Tim Guzman said an excursion train, one that is well managed, could be an asset to the city, but he said the Bluebird hasn't been such an asset for a long time.
And, too, he said, he knows that the Bluebird isn't going to go away.
"Believe me, we've tried to make it go away," he said, referring to efforts by Waterville officials and others in the community who opposed the passenger train, citing noise, litter, and other problems.
A few years back, a petition drive tried to ban the Bluebird from Waterville.
But Mr. Guzman said perhaps there could be opportunities for the Bluebird and the city to work together, such as to obtain grant funding.
Mrs. Mandler told council that the Bluebird has a new business plan that is a work in progress.
The plan is for the Bluebird to be an important asset to the community, helping Waterville grow.
She also said that people from Texas, California, Kansas, and other states are calling to book rides on the train.
Councilman John Gouttiere said he wants to meet with the Bluebird's new leadership and thanked Mrs. Mandler for the recent removal of two old water tankers that were considered by some as eyesores.
And he said he is glad to see that the new leadership is more responsive but said the city has been burned more than once by the Bluebird in the past.
He did say, however, that the Bluebird is a potential asset.
Removing those tankers, which were scrapped out, was part of the new business plan, Mrs. Mandler said.
Councilman Jim Valtin said that essentially, the railway is a new organization and noted that bylaws are being rewritten as the leadership reinvents itself.
Councilman Ann Cherry said perhaps the Bluebird could work with the local arts council or with the Metroparks of the Toledo Area on activities to attract passengers.
When Councilman Jeff Marty asked when the crossing on Waterville-Monclova would be repaired, Mrs. Mandler said bids will be taken, and the hope is to have work done in a month, but she cannot guarantee a time.
Cold patch has been used to make temporary repairs, but she said that doesn't hold up.
The train recently was vandalized, and those losses were not covered by insurance, Mrs. Mandler said.
In May, thieves stole engine parts and sections of seats from the Bluebird passenger train, enough to derail plans for a 2011 operating season.
Stolen from the train as it sat in Providence Township was nearly $75,000 worth of seats and equipment, including engine parts recently purchased but not yet installed.
The new parts were essential to get the train running for the 2011 season.
Plans called for the Bluebird to begin operations this summer after 3,000 railroad ties were replaced.
The railway has 65 members and about a dozen active volunteers.
Although the Bluebird didn't operate last year, the railway conducted motor car rallies and is doing so this year.
When the Bluebird is up and running, passengers board the train in Waterville for a several-mile round trip along tracks once part of the Cloverleaf Division of the Nickel Plate Road.
The railway's goal is to create an educational experience through the sights and sounds of yesterday and to educate passengers about the historical significance of railroads.