Texas State Railroad brings back some employees, service to resume next month

Published on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 12:58 - Written by JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS, jasimmons@tylerpaper.com

RUSK - Some employees of the Texas State Railroad are returning to work and there are expectations passenger service may resume early next month.

Word of the rehiring process emerged after Tuesday’s meeting of the Texas State Railroad Authority Board.

“Yes, the Railroad Authority Board was informed this morning some of the folks that were let go on Dec. 30 have been hired back, and they are scheduled to bring most of the other folks back by the end of the month,” said Rusk Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Bob Goldsberry, who heads the oversight group.

The return follows a December announcement that most of the people working for the living history attraction were being laid off and passenger service was being suspended.

Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis could not immediately be reached for comment. He said earlier by email the layoffs were seasonal in nature and rehiring was expected to resume by spring.

Staffing and service reductions were intended to help curb expenses, officials said.

Greg Udolph, Texas State Railroad general manager and chief mechanical officer, confirmed Tuesday’s announcement.

“People started coming back Monday,” he said. “Fourteen people are back on the payroll. By the end of next week, we’ll be at 25 … this is good news all the way around.”

Udolph said not all employees would be returning.

Some found other jobs and the job descriptions of others changed, he said, saying available openings can be found on the Iowa Pacific website.

As of Tuesday, four positions are posted for the Palestine and Rusk locations: passenger services manager, track laborer, ticket agent and grounds keeper.

“We probably will start running on the fourth of March,” Udolph said.

The Texas State Railroad has a historic and complicated past, aside from this latest round of layoffs.

Texas prison inmates created the rail line in 1881 as a way to transport hardwood to fuel furnaces at the iron smelter at the Rusk Penitentiary, which supplied the state with iron products.

The line was later modified to join the main line and was extended to Maydelle in 1906 and finally to Palestine in 1909, sparking increased commerce throughout the area.

Regular rail service was discontinued in 1921 and the line was later leased to outside rail companies until it was conveyed in 1972 to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which ran it a few years before it was again moved into private ownership.

Twitter: @TMT _ Jacque