Palestine City Council Votes to Keep Railroad

The Texas State Railroad in Cherokee County is now one step closer to being saved. Palestine city council members unanimously voted to allow a private contractor to take over the historic train.

Now, the issue has to go before the Rusk City Council, the House committee, and Governor Perry. If those agencies vote 'yes', American Heritage Railroad will take over the railroad, keeping it from becoming a static display.

Rusk city leaders will make their decision at a meeting this Thursday.

The historic Texas State Railroad in Cherokee County will shut down at the end of the summer if a private contractor doesn't take control of it. The idea of the train becoming a museum is disappointing for many Rusk residents.

Linda Tropp said, "It is such an asset to Rusk and the community and people love riding it, especially the children. My grandchildren love it and I think it would be a shame if they shut it down."

But Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner John Parker believes giving a private contractor control of the locomotive is a costly idea that will not save the state money.

"What the private contractor wants is to take over the railroad and for the state, over a period of time, to pay them $12 million," said Parker. "Why would the state give up a $130 million asset to a private contractor when the state can run it for that same $12 million?"

It costs the state nearly $3 million annually to operate the Texas State Railroad, leaving close to a million dollar deficit each year.

"Plus, we will have to come up with some extra funds to maintain the tracks and the equipment, but to me, that is a whole lot better than giving the train away," said Parker.

Parker also doesn't think a private contractor would be able to give job security or a retirement plan to the more than 70 people who work at the Texas State Railroad Park.

The Senate finance committee heard arguments Tuesday from both sides of the railroad debate.