Local officials met Monday to discuss a number of topics related to Northeast Texas Rural Transportation District and the railroad, including clearing of right-of-ways and a transload facility.
Sulphur Springs – Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Roger Feagley hosted representatives from the city, county, ATCOG and NETEX to discuss needs of the rail district.
Jeff Lederer, senior vice president of Freedom Rail Group, parent company of Northeast Texas Connector which operates NETEX, to the NETEX Board in November that the Federal Rail Administration had just conducted a track inspection on the line for the first time in at least 2 years. North East Texas Connector, which took over rail operation on July 1, had already been making improvements, including on the section of line in Sulphur Springs. A more thorough track inspection was also conducted just ahead of the FRA inspection, and also identified the same Class 1 deficiencies just ahead of the federal agency.
Overall, a total of 121 defects had been identified after the rail line review. That included 92 Class 1 or “30 day” defects and 19 more selected for repair, including 9 bridges identified as Class 1 defects due to drainage, Lederer reported in November. Some crossings and gauges such as the Jackson Street crossing were set to Class 2 Standards. Heavy vegetation, including tunneling, and debris along railroad right-of-ways also were an issue.
Some of those deficiencies had already been addressed by the November meeting, and the the rail operator was working as fast as possible to correct others to they would not be fined and to keep rail business moving and improving.
Due to the significant amount and cost of repairs, instead of proceeding with the initial plan to make Class 1 improvement this year, then work to upgrade to Class 2status, which would allow trains to pass on the tracks at 25 miles per hour rather than 10 mph, Freedom Rail/NETC is skipping Class I and upgrading to Class 2 standards as rail improvements are made, one to save money and two to more quickly make the upgrade.
Part of the improvements involves clearing of the railroad right-of ways. Freedom Rail Group is asking governmental bodies along the route to consider contributing funds to help clear the right-of-ways through their cities and counties, which would benefit business through safer, improved, faster rail service.
The local officials met at the EDC to discuss potential options to help fund equipment or other options for clearing the right-of-ways along NETEX railroad.
The local officials also Monday discussed with Chris Brown, ArkTex Council of Governments executive director, and Feagley a grant project to construct a new transload facility in Sulphur Springs, in the industrial park just off Loop 301. The facility would serve as a location to receive and unload train cars to and from trucks.
Funding for the project is obtained due to a partnership between the EDC and ATCOG. Originally, US Economic Development Administration awarded $1.5 million to Mount Vernon and Sulphur Springs a couple of years ago to fund infrastructure to help repurpose rail lines to the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation (NETEX) corridor that includes additional rail siding, an industrial lead track, and transload tracks.
The bulk of the funding, over $1 million, was originally earmarked for a low-volume transload terminal in Mount Vernon for receipt and shipment of rail cars, serving local businesses in Northeast Texas and Southwest Arkansas. However, discord among the entities involved resulted in the Mount Vernon terminal being canceled and that funding going back to the federal agency.
The EDC and ATCOG worked together to see the conceded funding awarded for an transload facility in Sulphur Springs. That project is still in the “very beginning stages,” not yet to the construction phase, Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said after Monday’s meeting. The project is expected to begin as soon as the funding and logistics are in place, and will be required to be completed within a specified amount of time.