(The following is an update on the Texas State Railroad situation.)
EDITORIAL: Save the Railroad
The Lufkin Daily News
Sunday, March 12, 2006
It's almost the end of the line for the Texas State Railroad.
The railroad, which dates to the 1800s, will become “a static historical display in Rusk and Palestine” unless a private entity takes over its operations by Jan. 1, 2007, according to a letter written by Robert L. Cook, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
That would be an incredible shame, to East Texas and the state as a whole.
The plight of the Texas State Railroad, as reported in stories in Wednesday's edition of the Cherokean Herald, is a sad one. Yet East Texas should have seen it coming, and hopefully it's not too late to do something about it.
There are actually two dire situations facing the historic railroad, both of which we have covered in articles published in the past year. One is the fact that the state parks department has seen its budget slashed unmercifully by the state Legislature. The other is the ongoing battle over what to do with 25,000 acres of Neches River bottomwoods – turn it into a national wildlife refuge or a reservoir that would provide water to Dallas one day.
Our state parks, especially those in East Texas, are reeling from both the funding reductions and the damage they sustained from Hurricane Rita. The state railroad, however, may have suffered the biggest blow: Because of the budget cuts, it lost 17 employees – more than any other park in the state – and its regular train runs from Palestine were eliminated for this year, according to the railroad's Web site.
There's some temporary good news. State Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) and state Reps. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) and Chuck Hopson (D-Jacksonville) have helped secure $500,000 in supplemental appropriations for the railroad, according to one of the Cherokean Herald stories. That means the Palestine line will be back in operation soon, we hope.
But that's just a Band-Aid. It's going to take a transfusion – of money – to truly restore the Texas State Railroad to the point where East Texas families and school children can enjoy it as well as generations past have enjoyed it.
We join Hopson, the state representative, in expressing serious reservations about having an outside company come in and operate the railroad. He said it would mean “the nail in the coffin” for the line, according to the Cherokean Herald.
Of course, nothing's going to save the railroad if Dallas is successful in its bid to dam the Neches River for a future water supply. The proposed Fastrill Reservoir would cover the tracks where they cross the river.
So what can be done to save the railroad? The organization Friends of Texas State Railroad suggest two options on its Web site, www.texasstaterailroad.com:
— Contact Gov. Perry and state officials to request more funding for the railroad.
— Contact federal officials, namely Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Chief Dale Hall, to encourage that the proposed wildlife refuge – not the proposed reservoir – be established on the Neches River.
Both of those are good ideas, but what we need is a serious shift in thinking at all levels of government. Our officials need to realize that the budget cuts they're making now are going to cause problems that will cost a whole lot more to fix in the long run.
It's either that, or our state parks are going to start dropping like flies – beginning with the Texas State Railroad.
We can't let that happen.