East Texas tourist train faces closure on December 30

PALESTINE, Texas – Supporters of the Texas State Railroad are seeking emergency funding from the state to try to prevent the East Texas tourist train from closing at the end of the year.

The last run for the train, which ferries tourists between Rusk and Palestine, is set for Dec. 30. But a task force is lobbying the state for $650,000 to keep the train running until the Legislature can vote on long-term operating funds.

If the Legislature won’t fund long-term operations, the task force hopes to turn running the train over to a private company.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” said Steve Presley, a Palestine pharmacist and chairman of the Texas State Railroad Preservation Task Force.

“We’re going to jump up and down and yell and scream until we get our way. But more important, we’re going to continue to show that it’s an economically viable project and the state of Texas not only benefits economically but historically and culturally by saving this railroad,” he said.

The railroad was first opened in the 1880s. In 1976, railroad enthusiasts convinced the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to preserve the line as a tourist train.

However, the train has been losing money. Officials said it loses about $1 million a year and needs $40 million over the next decade for the care of antique engines, cars and track.

Under the current budget, “we’re not painting coaches, we’re not buying cross ties, we’re not buying wheel and axle sets,” said Robert Crossman III, general superintendent of the Texas State Railroad State Park.

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