RAIL: A Potential Gamechanger?

The long-term economic impact of the Henderson/Overton branch rail line and spur to the town was the main topic of discussion during Thursday night’s regular city council meeting.

John Cloutier, board president, Rusk County Rural Rail District, spoke with council members about the District’s goal to bring new businesses and jobs to the county – and safeguard existing ones.

“We believe that the city of Overton stands to gain a considerable tool in its toolbox of economic development, especially now that we’re preparing to begin operations,” Cloutier said.

“Having such direct access to both the rail spur that leads into Henderson, as well as the main line that runs the length of town, there’s no reason why Overton shouldn’t be able to bring companies and workers here […] the potential is limitless.”

Cloutier then recognized the work of Rail District Treasurer Scott Andrews, an Overton resident, throughout the process and stressed the interests of this community of 2,350 in western Rusk County.

“Scott Andrews has worked very hard on the board and does an excellent job with the finances. He’s also been a voice for Overton on the board as well,” Cloutier said.

Following the grand opening of the rail scheduled Thursday at The Depot Museum, Cloutier said, Andrews has made arrangements for a breakfast at the Green Melon Restaurant the following morning at 9 a.m.

“It’s something that I hope the young people of Overton can come out and participate in,” Cloutier said. “This stands to be a potential game-changer in the history of this community, and we’d like for the different generations of Overton residents to take part in it.”

Cloutier also introduced Wayne Defebaugh, owner and operator of Blacklands Railroad, who gave the council some background information on his experiences bringing rail service to the Sulphur Springs area and how it has impacted that community.

“I started in the rail business there in 1999. It was a similar situation as to Overton and Henderson in the respect that there was not a lot going on with the rail,” Defebaugh said. “I came in and most people told me it couldn’t work in their town.”

Defebaugh said changes in the shipping economy, due in no small part to the continued rising trajectory of fuel prices, combined with the increasing regulations on fuel economy for freight hauling have renewed interest in rail shipping in East Texas.

“We’re looking at this across the board, both on the Overton end as well as the Henderson end of the rail,” Defebaugh said. “If there’s a way we can improve the economic development of any community we run through, we’re going to try to do that.”


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