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Anacortes Railway tickets from 1980 and 1986. A Lincoln, California vintage restorer and an Anacortes non-profit are competing to acquire and operate the train. (Courtesy / Misty Dyer)  

A possible decision regarding the future of the Tommy Thompson train has been delayed until the Sept. 28 Anacortes City Council meeting.

Council members listened Tuesday to proposals from Bret Iwan, a designer and vintage restorer who proposes operating the train in Lincoln, California, a city 30 miles northeast of Sacramento; and Dave Sem, president of Anacortes Railway Group, a nonprofit that proposes operating the train in Anacortes, where it operated for 20 years.

Several residents submitted comments, most calling for community input, a fair appraisal and due process before deciding the train's fate. 

Speakers included Headen Thompson, son of Thomas G. Thompson Jr., a mechanical engineer who operated the narrow-gauge locomotive and three passenger cars as the Anacortes Railway from 1979 until his death in 1999. His wife, Anne, donated the train to the City of Anacortes in 2012, specifying that the train would be on “static display for the enjoyment of the community.”

Iwan, who rode Thompson's train as a child, approached the city in July 2019 about buying the train, which is stored in a small building at The Depot. Anne Thompson signed a new agreement on Dec. 12 allowing the city to sell the train and she and her son have spoken in favor of Iwan's proposal.

“Our family’s only wish is to see this train run again, and inspire and delight future generations to the awesome power and beauty of steam railroads that my father saw,” Headen Thompson said at Tuesday's council meeting, reading from a letter he previously submitted to the city. “The train stored in its current building with a proposed window cut in one wall as a static exhibit, in our opinion, offers little inspiration.”

Iwan proposes buying the Tommy Thompson train — the locomotive, three passenger cars, and rail and equipment — from the city for $117,500, according to documents on file with the city. According to the Dec. 12 agreement, proceeds from the sale would be used to “interpret and memorialize the legacy of Thomas G. Thompson, Jr. and his Train and support the work of the Anacortes Museum.”

In a letter to the city, Iwan wrote that riding on Tommy Thompson’s train as a child influenced his love of railroading.

“As my collection of hand-punched tickets grew, so did my fascination,” he wrote. “From the color scheme of the locomotive, to the corbels of the engine shed, no detail went unnoticed. I would love nothing more than to help provide a location for Tommy’s creation to continue having fun, while celebrating the heritage of a community I treasure.”

Sem, however, said his organization has the resources and support to operate the train here — and warned that the train cannot be replaced once sold.

Sem also talked about the community investment in the train to date. It was members of the local railway group, he said, that transported the train from Seattle to Anacortes when it was donated to the city in 2012. They returned it to the train barn at The Depot, and got it up and running for a short run in 2015.    

According to Sem, the team of supporters includes Ryan Handel, an engineer on the Mount Rainier Railroad and, formerly, the Anacortes Railway; three local construction companies; and local service clubs and nonprofits. The proposed train route is the Ben Root Skate Park to 34th Street using the right of way on the Tommy Thompson Parkway.

With the exception of the approved route, which would require a right-of-way use agreement with the city, the nonprofit “can satisfy every requirement” of the Dec. 12 agreement allowing the sale of the train to another party.

The agreement between Anne Thompson and the city states a potential purchaser must “demonstrate the requisite skills and knowledge to operate the Train;” “demonstrate plans for a location for the Train as an attraction open to the public;” make “a commitment to the City not to significantly alter the Train other than as needed for its maintenance and care;” and make “a commitment to care for the Train and provide for its regular maintenance and upkeep.”

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