Kentucky Steam announces first of several operations for historic locomotive 2716

Historic train making road trip to New England

RAVENNA, Ky. (WTVQ) — An ambitious plan to restore and operate C&O 2716, a 75-year-old, 400-ton steam locomotive, has received a major boost. The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation has inked an agreement that will bring the mammoth steam engine rolling into New England on the first of several stops on an exciting residency program.

The Railroad Museum of New England, based in Thomaston, Connecticut, has signed up to be a months-long host to C&O 2716, a massive “Kanawha” type engine built by the American Locomotive Company in 1943. The agreement will allow the engine to be the star of the already-popular tourist operation that operates a 19-mile route between Waterbury and Torrington, Connecticut. 

The engine’s visit to Thomaston is the first and longest stop on an ambitious year-long sojourn from the locomotive’s home in Irvine, Kentucky. Several other stops will be announced at a later date.

Howard Pincus, Chairman of RMNE, said he is thrilled to be the first operation to host the mammoth piece of rolling history.

“We’re pleased to be hosting C&O 2716 on our railroad, as it will be the first large steam locomotive to operate in New England since 1976,” Mr. Pincus said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to partner with a capable and visionary group like KSHC. Moving operational steam locomotives between heritage groups is quite common in Great Britain, but has only been done a few times in the United States.”

Though the engine is currently undergoing an extensive restoration process in Kentucky Steam’s own shop facility in Irvine, Kentucky, there have not been any clearly-defined opportunities for the engine to stretch its legs. Chris Campbell, president of the Kentucky-based 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, says that solidifying a goal of operations gives a new breath of life into the restoration effort which has been partially stymied by challenges introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Our goal is to restore and run this giant marvel of engineering, bringing about and promoting tourism for our region,” said Campbell. “The 2716 residency program can be an opportunity to both let new generations of people experience the sensory overload that locomotives like this provide, as well as to promote our own tourism endeavors here in Irvine to others that may not know about us. We are thrilled to be kicking it off with a first class institution like the RMNE.”

Founded in 1968 to preserve the railroad history and culture of the region, The Railroad Museum of New England has operated its Naugatuck Railroad since 1995 for both heritage tourism and commercial freight trains. RMNE has an extensive collection of regional rail artifacts, including freight and passenger railcars, locomotives, and the restored 1881 Thomaston Station, centerpiece of Naugatuck excursion operations. More than 30,000 passengers ride “Naugy” trains annually.

“We plan to feature 2716 on regular and special passenger excursions throughout the engine’s residency,” Mr. Pincus said. “Our 1920s open-window coaches will allow riders to experience the sounds and sights of steam power in the Litchfield Hills of Northwestern Connecticut. There will also be opportunities for special photo events, featuring our collection of 1920s-1950s vintage freight cars, making a historically-appropriate freight train for 2716.”

Pincus added that, “We aren’t counting out any operational opportunity for the engine while it’s here. There are bound to be some surprises, and we have a lot of imagination. Think about seeing 2716 steaming through a New England winter snowfall!”

Founded in 2015, The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation has a long-term lease on the 2716 from its owner, the Kentucky Railway Museum. The engine is the centerpiece of the organization’s ambitious rail-based tourism project based in Estill County, Kentucky. Kentucky Steam purchased a 40-acre former CSX rail yard in 2018 and has been steadily renovating the space into a railroad-centered campus which will house the already-refurbished locomotive repair facility, as well as a concert venue, restaurant and museum. While trains are the theme, the complex will be the hallmark of Appalachian revitalization, providing a springboard for experience-based tourism.

Campbell says that the locomotive will be both an attraction at their Irvine facility, but will also go on the road often, acting as a rolling marketing tool for Appalachian Kentucky’s own tourist endeavors. “Our hope is that the locomotive will captivate a new audience wherever it goes,” he said. “2716 will bring people to whoever is hosting us as well as eventually draw them to visit us in Kentucky.”

While the engine will clearly be a new and exciting draw for The Railroad Museum of New England’s own operations, their Board Chairman has a bit of a personal interest in bringing the engine to Thomaston.

“Personally, I’ve been following the progress of KSHC for years as they have achieved their goals, and I’m a believer in their project,” Pincus said. “Being able to host their locomotive at our railroad in Connecticut is great for both KSHC and RMNE; they will have an engine ready to operate, and we have a railroad to use it on! The excitement and drama of a large, operating steam locomotive is something that should be seen as often as possible.”

Dates and times for the multi-month event will be announced sometime in 2022. As Campbell explains, the locomotive will need to hit several key fundraising and restoration progress goals before the events can be finalized and tickets can be offered for pre-sale. 

“We are several years off from making our way up east,” he said. “But with announcements like this, we hope people who have considered contributing to the restoration can see an end goal in sight. We are excited to get the engine fully operational and bring people to us in Kentucky. But we are equally as excited to get out on the road.”

While en-route to and from Connecticut, there will be additional venues for 2716 to operate in excursion passenger service over regional and shortline railroads. These possibilities are being explored and will bring the excitement of 2716’s operation to some regions that have not seen major steam excursions in over 30 years.

In tandem with this announcement, KSHC is spearheading a fund drive to raise $10,000 for the locomotive’s restoration by the end of 2021. To make a project-dedicated tax-deductible donation to the locomotive’s rehab, visit www.kentuckysteam.org/donate or by mail to Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, 499 Kirkland Ave, Irvine KY 40336.

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