Angel San Juan reports on fundraising effort to save historic KCS train in Port Arthur

The City of Port Arthur estimates it could anywhere from $150,000 to $500,000 repair a deteriorated KCS engine train. (KFDM/Fox 4 photo)

A Kentucky train restoration specialist is spearheading a project to save the Kansas City Southern Engine 503, a historic landmark in Port Arthur.

Through a GoFundMe account,, Jason Sobczynski has raised more than $31,000.

He's aiming for $50,000 to prevent the locomotive from getting scrapped. Port Arthur city management says the train tested positive for asbestos and contains lead-based paint. The city says it was also leaking oil. The city has decided that full restoration would cost too much, between $150,000 abd $500,000.

The artifact has been a fixture at Bryan Park on Gulfway Drive since 1957.

The 503 is what's left of the 500 series of locomotives built by Kansas City Southern between 1913 and 1920. Former Councilman John Beard, and current community activist, partly blames the city for the train's decay. Beard says the historic engine belongs to the people of Port Arthur and they should have the final say over its fate.

The city contracted Inland Environmental to get rid of the oil spill and the asbestos.

Sobczynski says he plans to buy the engine from the company, and move it out of Port Arthur.

He says it will be temporarily housed at the Texas State Railroad in Rusk. A non-profit trust will be set up and donations to the trust will pay for restoration. Eventually it will end up at a train museum in Atlanta, or a tourist railroad in Orlando.

This saddens lifetime Port Arthur residents like Denise Griffin. She told us, "It looks like everything is leaving away from this beautiful town, Port Arthur, Texas."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has given Port Arthur a March Sixth deadline to get rid of the train's oil spill.

Meanwhile Beard is questioning if the city council even voted on scrapping the 503, reportedly the decision was made in closed session.

Beard says anything decided behind closed doors, action must be taken in open council.

We've reached out to the city to inquire exactly how it all happened.

Last Friday, Port Arthur released the following statement about the engine:

This City recently experienced a catastrophic event, which exacerbated the City’s financial problems (i.e. collapsing sewer systems, street deterioration, and several city facilities with leaking and deteriorating roofs).
Just after Tropical Storm Harvey, an oily substance was found in Bryan Park and the surrounding area. The source appeared to have come from the KCS Engine Train 503. The City’s consultant, Total Safety, Inc., was hired to investigate the train. Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regulations mandated that such spills must be immediately remediated and the soil under the train be excavated.
A visual observation revealed exposed insulation in the train prompting a test for the presence of asbestos. It was also determined that the train contained lead based paint. The train was also in a severe state of disrepair and deterioration. Test results received on October 9, 2017 confirmed that the insulation contained asbestos, the level of which was above any acceptable limit. Abatement of the asbestos was the only responsible alternative. The TCEQ gave the City of Port Arthur a deadline of March 6, 2018 to accomplish this task of remediation of the oil spill. Failure to do so would have placed the City in the position of being issued an Enforcement Order by TCEQ and a possible fine.
During the months of September and October of 2017, Kansas City Southern Railroad was contacted locally and at corporate headquarters. Inquiry was made as to its interest in re-acquiring the train. KCS declined the City’s offer. Later in October, the Texas Transportation Museum and others were contacted in an effort to obtain the cost of full restoration of the train. Estimates of full restoration ranged from $150,000 to $500,000.
Due to time constraints, safety concerns, the deteriorating condition of the train, the presence of asbestos, and lead based paint, City Management determined that the best option was to award a contract, which included remediation of the liquid, abatement of the asbestos, excavation of the soil, and removal of the train. Given the needs of this City, the conditions we face, and the fiduciary responsibility to the City by the City Manager and staff, left us with no other viable financial alternative.
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