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An old train facility in Silvis is about to get new life. And that new life likely will include a railroad history museum, a facility for restoring and repairing old trains as well as the historic preservation of local railroad history. That’s the goal of a Minneapolis-based railroad heritage organization that recently purchased the National Railway Equipment (NRE) complex in Silvis. The Railroading Heritage of Midwest America/The Friends (RRHMA) of the 261 group will expand its operations to the NRE complex that spans a 90-acre facility and once was home to the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. The Silvis site has several miles of track and a main shop building measuring 400,000 square feet. It includes a wheel shop, warehouse space, locomotive wheel drop table, several other smaller shop buildings and is equipped with multiple overhead cranes. The complex is served by Iowa Interstate Railroad, BNSF Railway, and Canadian Pacific Railway. The heritage group has been negotiating to move into the complex over the last half of 2021. The sale of the property included the existing buildings and about 11.4 miles of track. “Rather than bulldozing this place and making it an open space, let’s make it a historic part of the community,” Steven Sandberg, the heritage organization’s president and chief operating officer, told the Quad Cities Regional Business Journal. Mr. Sandberg could not give a specific timeline when the train facility would be turned into a multi-use commercial development and museum. But added that he hopes the transition would happen in the next two to five years. He said the railroad heritage group currently is working on cleaning up the Silvis facility and meeting with contractors. Several Silvis city leaders expressed enthusiasm for the new facility. “We’re all very excited about this,” said Silvis Mayor Matt Carter. “We could not find a better partner than Friends of the 261 to do this project.” Mr. Sandberg would not disclose the cost of the project but said “This takes our organization to a whole new level.” “We are excited about the possibilities; I believe this is one of the boldest moves for historic and railroad preservation in recent history,” Mr. Sandberg said in a news release. “The Quad Cities is home to such industrial giants as John Deere and is the backbone of American industry.” The history of the railroad facility dates back more than 100 years. In 1902, Rock Island chose Silvis as the site of its largest locomotive repair shop, a central hub for its network that would eventually include a general stores department, repair shop, roundhouse and large freight yard. The railroad continued to use the shop until it shut down in March 1980. It later was acquired by National Railway Equipment. NRE closed the Silvis shop in March 2021 as part of a plan to consolidate rail operations to its shops in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and Paducah, Kentucky. Since its founding in 1984, NRE has grown to become the world’s largest independent supplier of leased locomotives, new and remanufactured locomotives, electrical components and field services. Mr. Sandberg said RRHMA’s main goals for the Silvis rail facility are:
- Use portions of the facility for steam locomotive restoration and repairs, diesel repairs, passenger car work and historical preservation.
- Eventually open a railroad history museum.
- Under the agreement, a portion of the facility will be leased back to NRE over the next five years to help generate revenue and offset the cost of the acquisition.
- Host diesel and/or steam powered holiday-themed trains at the complex. This could happen as early as 2023, he added.
- RRHMA subsidiary, Friends of the 261, owns and operates Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261 based in Minneapolis. Mr. Sandberg said the organization currently has no plans to permanently move No. 261 to Silvis.