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The Athens depot: route abandonment a threat to the to n’s economy Jr su a sui ds ug or Seagoville Kaufman Longview rail future on the line the tracks they want to abandon. They claim no shipping point is more than 28 miles from an established railhead, and foresee companies trucking their goods to those railheads, then letting Southern Pacific haul them the rest of the way. Long -term effects The company points out that the larger towns on the routeSeagoville, Athens, Jacksonville and Nacogdocheshave easy access to other rail lines. What Southern Pacific doesn’t say is that these lines don’t provide adequate service for local businesses. DeWitt Farms in Nacogdoches, for example, imports grain from West Texas to manufacture animal feed. The Seagoville-Bonita Junction run is Nacogdoches’ most direct link to the West, but because the tracks are in such bad shape, Southern Pacific sends the cargo down toward Houston, then back up to Nacogdoches, causing a two-to-four-day delay. Even if the alternate lines were to do a passable job, East Texas businessmen say that abandonment of the Seagoville tracks will have a far greater impact on the East Texas economy than the railroad application suggests. One immediate result would be a rate increase for Nacogdoches rail users. Because the disputed track is still in use, the railroad can charge only the rates which would apply to the most direct route, even though the company ships the long way around. If the ICC approves the proposed abandonment, rail customers in Nacogdoches could face rate increases of up to $100 per carload on some classes of freight, according to the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce. The long-term effects of the service cut-off could be that East Texas would lose a lot of industryand a lot of jobs. Acme Brick and Edge and Moehlman both say they need rail service if they are to build contemplated plants at Eustace, twelve miles northwest of Athens. Acme’s $8 million facility would, the company says, provide jobs for one hundred workers in this community of about five hundred. If the train stops running, Acme may have to drop its Eustace plans altogether. And if the company did move in, its operations would be much smaller than originally expected. Edge and Moehlman, an independent drilling outfit, says that wells in an oil and gas field it owns near Eustace produce up to 850 tons of sulfur a day. Wells on other fields in the area bring the figure up to 1,400 tons, and three projected new wells offer the prospect of producing nearly 2,800 tons per day. They need the railroad to get the sulfur to market. The ICC’s role Shell Oil has recently bought an interest in the Edge and Moehlman field and, according to the Tyler-based company, has made tentative plans to construct a multimillion-dollar plant near Eustace. The loss of the train might jeopardize the deal. ICC regulations allow the abandonment of track which carries less than 34 cars per mile during the year. Southern Pacific’s reports that there were only 31.42 cars per mile in 1975, and that if spurs out of Athens and Jacksonville Palestine Nacogdoches Bonita Jct. Lufkin Map by Laura Eisenhour which the railroad plans to sell to a subsidiary are excluded from the calculations, the traffic figure drops to 24.28. Those fighting to save the train have received pledges of support from the state attorney general’s office and the Railroad Commission. U.S. Sen. John Tower even got in line during a recent pre-campaign swing through the area. He promised to put in his “nickel’s worth” with the ICC. There is as yet no clear indication of when the ICC will act. Steps between now and then include an environmental impact study and a public hearing where opponents can argue their case before an administrative law judge. Dallas attorney Frank Brooks, an expert on abandonment proceedings hired by some of the affected companies, told a recent meeting of businessmen that several factors could delay the hearings until sometime in 1978. A full-scale environmental impact studyassessing the effects, for example, of pollutants which would be generated by alternative transportation such as truckscould take months in itself. The “4-R” Act A second delaying factor is the logjam of cases waiting to be heard by the ICC. In part the caseload has swelled because the ICC still does not have guidelines for enforcing the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. And there is some question whether the Southern Pacific application ought to be considered under the “4-R” Act or under a previous law. While they wait, concerned companies are compiling documentation on shipping volume, raising money for legal help, holding periodic meetings to assess their position, and hoping they will not become just another group of victims of “consolidation” of routes on the nation’s collapsing rail system. 0 John Spragens Jr. is a rep6rter for the Athens Daily Review. 11 THE TEXAS OBSERVER