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Drilling to reach old train begins

(The following article by Tiffany Hsu was posted on the Richmond Times-Dispatch website on July 13.)

RICHMOND, Va. -- A team today began drilling into the hillside of Richmond's Jefferson Hill Park, trying to reach a locomotive buried in a collapsed tunnel for nearly 81 years.

A camera will be lowered into the hole to determine whether Chesapeake and Ohio Railway locomotive 231, which was trapped under the park when the Church Hill Tunnel collapsed Oct. 2, 1925, can be retrieved.

Pete Claussen, chairman and CEO of Gulf & Ohio Railways and the excavation project's leader, flew in from Knoxville, Tenn., yesterday to watch today's work.

The effort is being supported by the city, which owns the property, and the Virginia Historical Society, which would display the locomotive on its property if it is successfully removed.

An engineer and two workers were killed in the collapse. Historians believe at least one body is still inside the tunnel.

About ten camera engineers, drillers, workers and onlookers gathered around the site at 20th and East Marshall streets.

The entrance to the 4,000-foot-long tunnel at 18th Street is marked with a red flag that also identifies the possible location of the back of the train.

Before reaching the three feet of brick that form the top of the tunnel, the drills must bore through dirt that is 30 feet deep in some areas. As of mid-day, the drilling had reached a depth of about 15 feet.

Organizers said the drilling could extend into tomorrow because of concerns about dirt and rubble from the collapse that could be packed to the top of the tunnel.

"In a perfect world, we'll only have to drill this one hole," said Wesley Blankenship, whose Midlothian contracting company H.W. Blankenship & Sons, Inc. is conducting the $15,000 feasibility study. "We could get a clear shot straight to the engine. But I doubt it."

After today's and potentially tomorrow's work, the team will spend about a week reviewing the images, and will meet with city officials and consulting engineers before deciding whether the locomotive can be taken out.

If the train is fit to be moved, the project may take several more months while organizers hash out details involving funding and where to concentrate excavation efforts.

Friday, July 14, 2006

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