FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2007
AUSTIN -- Today the Texas House of Representatives approved SB 1659 authorizing a partnership between the cities of Rusk and Palestine which will ensure the railroad keeps running. The bill is also the first authored by freshman Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) to pass through both the House and the Senate.
"The people of Anderson and Cherokee counties have worked so hard to keep the railroad running," said Nichols. "I'm extraordinarily proud to be a part of their efforts and passing my first bill on behalf of the Texas State Railroad."
The Texas State Railroad, the official railroad of Texas, is run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department but is scheduled for shutdown on September 1, 2007, unless an alternate operator can be found. SB 1659 authorizes a partnership of the cities of Rusk and Palestine to lease out operations to a separate entity but remain under the supervision of the partnership.
"This bill puts control of the railroad with those who have the most to gain or lose," said House sponsor Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana). "I believe this partnership can keep the train running for years to come."
American Heritage Railways, which operates other historic tourist trains in Colorado and North Carolina, was selected by local leaders groups to continue train operations.
Area legislators also pursued options to keep the train under the operation of Texas Parks and Wildlife, but as the legislative session moves into the final two weeks, funding for continued state operation of the train is increasingly less likely.
"Ultimately, we need to lay a groundwork to keep the train running," said Rep. Chuck Hopson (D-Jacksonville). "If keeping the train as a state park is not an option, the best course of action is to let local citizens control the future of this remarkable tourist attraction."
The legislation requires the railroad not be converted to a static display and that it must remain in its current location.
Sen. Nichols thanked his Senate predecessor, current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
"As the senator for District 3, Todd Staples made saving the Texas State Railroad a top priority," said Nichols. "His work is part of the foundation of building a successful future for the train."