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judge, and maybe to some customers. There is no notice sent to newspapers \(a commission examiner says that it would cost too notice of the application in the Texas Register until after the case has been submitted to the commissioners themselves. Following notification, any of these parties has 20 days to file a protest to the closing. Only people with a “direct interest” may intervene, but it is unclear who the commission will recognize as having a direct interest. E. A. Galvan, a RRC examiner who handles many of these cases, says that he doesn’t think the transportation unions, for example, would have standing to get involved. That’s a bit strange, since the Brotherhood of Railway Workers has been intervening in these cases for several years, according to union representative K. 0. Richardson and the commission’s own files. Galvan also says that although mayors and county judges are formally notified of the closings, they would not be allowed to protest it unless their offices are actually customers of the rail lines. That brings up the matter of informing customers. The commission only notifies patrons if the company furnishes their names and addresses. The examiners make no independent effort to find out who the shippers are and whether they want the station closed. After notification, a date is set for a hearing in Austin, unless there is “enough” interest on the locals’ part to warrant holding it in the town of the depot. Galvan says about half of his hearings are out of Austin, but there are no guidelines on how much interest there must ,be before he’ll move the hearing. Hearings are usually scheduled within two months of the filing date, which means protesters have to scramble to get a case together \(the company lawyers already have their side ready on to make a recommendation to the commissioners, though it is not unusual for examiners to be granted extensions. A rail firm seeking an abandonment merely has to show that it “has made reasonable provision for performance of its statutory duty to serve the public,” and that “public convenience and necessity no longer require a depot” in the town. There are no written guidelines at the RRC for judging whether these conditions have been met. Suffice it to say that in the memory of RRC staff, no application has been rejected on either ground. Galvan says that a depot closing recommencation has been reversed by the commissioners once, and that was for a technical reason. \(He was referring to a 1977 Atlanta case. Closing the Mo-Pac depot there would have meant that customers would be served by a company office located on the Arkansas side of Texarkana. Galvan says the commission voted against it beThe Observer asked Walter Caven what the impact would be on railroads if the commission suddenly showed backbone and started rejecting some of the applications: “It wouldn’t have much effect [on us] at all,” he said, “because that would be arbitrary and capricious, and we’d take them to court over it and win.” Who’s minding the store? More is involved in these shifts than the current growth plans of railroad management. An annual half million dollars’ worth of business may not be much to a conglomerate like Santa Fe, but dependable freight transportation is essential to such small businesses. And abandonments mean additional unemployment, not only at the depot, but also in the commercial sector that depends on it. Depot closings in agricultural areas put another burden on farmers, who can’t depend on a computer to have a train there when their crops are ready to ship. A closing is also a dispiriting vote of no-confidence in a small town, draining its economic base and seriously weakening its potential to draw new enterprises into the area. None of this is to say that all closings are unwarranted, but it does mean a broader perspective should be uppermost in the minds of officials. The burden of proof should rest heavily on the companies, the entire community should be painstakingly consulted, and the RRC staff and the commissioners themselves should be especially diligent in the exercise of this responsibility. That is not currently the case, however. Just providing basic information on the abandonment issue proved an impossible, often comic, chore for the commission. When the Observer asked for a list of abandonments approved in the last few years, we were told by the examiners that the information could not be compiled “without months of work.” How many cases are currently pending then, and what is their status? Again, the staff was unable to come up with the answer. We then asked to see some of the case files themselves, so we could compile our own list. An examiner took us to the room where the files were supposed to be, only to find the room completely empty. It seems the commission is getting packed to move to a new building and the active files’apparehtly got lost in the shuffle. After some embarrassed searching by the examiner, they were finally located in a disorderly room that was piled high with boxes, filing cabinets, and even a stack of old automobile tires. The commissioners are even less attentive to the closings. None of them knew how many cases were pending before them or even roughly how many depots had been closed during their own tenure. All maintain that they handle applications one at a time, deciding each on the merits, though none of them seemed knowledgeable about the increasing centralization of freight service. Commissioner Jim Nugent said that the Interstate Commerce Commission was the culprit on abandonments and refused to answer questions about his own agency’s responsibilities, saying that we should talk to the staff about it. The federal Rail Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 directs each state to designate an agency to compile facts on its rail industry and develop a state rail plan. The RRC is the designated agency in Texas, and under this federal directive its transportation division has been slowly putting together a study of the rail lines in Texas, using information provided by the companies themselves. They also have plans to produce a plan which they say would define Texas’ rail needs until the year 2000, but this is to deal with rail lines, not depots. There is some minimal state attention to this matter of line abandonment. Approval of these cuts has to come from the ICC, but that has not seemed much of a problem for the companies either-30 lines in Texas have been axed since 1970, with only two requests rejected. The attorney general’s office, however, has at least begun to monitor this development, and, with technical expertise from the RRC’s transportation division, the AG’s staff has intervened thus far in five abandonment hearings. The truth is that there is no state agency or officials who , really are on top of the declining rail transportation situation in rural and small-town Texas. Even the legislators from affected areas don’t seem always to know what is going on in their own districts, much less across the state. The Jacksonville closing, for example, produced no documented complaint from the town’s state senator or representative. Sen. Roy Blake says that he knew of it at the time but saw no adverse result for the town, so did not protest. Indeed, he says he is particularly pleased that the local chamber of commerce has announced plans to lease the old depot building and refurbish it for offices. Rep. Emmett Whitehead’s role is a little less clearhe told the Observer that he fought the closing all along the way by writing letters of protest. To whom? “Everybody,” he says. But no record of any letters from him could be found at the Railroad Commission, and his staff is unable to produce copies of such letters from their files. It is time now to stop playing games with the lives of real people. Refurbishing old depots may be fun, but it is hardly helpful. What we need now are railroads that serve Texans not just rich businesses, but all of us. And the Railroad Commission is not, so far, doing much to insure we get what’s necessary. Linda Daniel is a freelance writer who lives in Austin. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5