The little railroad that could (make a big difference)
Ability to connect with major rail carriers makes Blacklands an important part of local economic development strategy

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Blacklands Railroad’s engines only operate on about 70 miles of track, but the Sulphur Springs-based shortline carrier’s ability to connect to two major railroads is attracting more attention from industries eyeing a home in Hopkins County.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

April 16, 2006 - Think of it as the little railroad that could.

As freight haulers go, the shortline Blacklands Railroad looks tiny when compared to such rail giants as Kansas City Southern, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern-Sante Fe and others.

After all, Blacklands' tracks only extend from Mount Pleasant to Greenville, compared to the big carriers' vast rail systems that criss-cross the continent.

Blacklands Railroad, however, is one of the biggest assets in the local economic development corporation's marketing strategy for Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County.

Blacklands has the ability to connect with the major players in rail transportation, and that has become a significant factor in marketing Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County for economic growth and development.

Roger Feagley, executive vice president of the Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation, said that most development projects now require close access to railroads, and having two railroads in Sulphur Springs is a definite advantage. And while Kansas City Southern continues to be a profitable, far-reaching freight carrier serving the area, its tiny Blacklands that's attracting more attention from industries eyeing a home in Hopkins County.

"In most cases, when a business builds along a railroad track, they are more or less stuck with that carrier and have to use their rates, Feagley said. "If you are located on the Blacklands and don't like the rates Union Pacific is charging, go talk to KCS. They do compete, and Blacklands can connect with either railroad."

Having Blacklands' home office located in Sulphur Springs is another advantage for industries and shippers.

"When a company wants to talk to the man in charge, the man in charge is right down the street from them," Feagley said. "So he is easy to find."

Close access to Blacklands rail in the industrial development area near Raven Industries on the city's east side has put that location in the spotlight for several companies that are considering locating here.

Another site of high interest is south of Interstate 30 near the WePack facility, where rail service is available via a spur from the Kansas City Southern tracks.

Feagley said he did not know if high fuel prices or other factors are the reason that most of the projects looking at locations in Hopkins County are requiring railroad access.

But whatever the reason, "our sites along the railroads are the ones attracting the most attention," he said.

The availability of two railroad companies and connections to other rail carriers is not the only transporation-related tool Feagley can use in marketing Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County to industries and businesses looking for a place to relocate.

Interstate 30 is another ready access for shippers, and the announcement of plans for the proposed Trans Texas Corridor to cross I-30 between Greenville and Dallas could mean even greater transportation access for business and industry in Sulphur Springs.

"The designation of I-30 as a NAFTA corridor helps," Feagley said. "That road coming on the east side of Dallas — of course, the further east, the more we like it — will help us drastically."

Still another marketing tool for economic development is Sulphur Springs Airport, which is already home to an aircraft manufacturer.

"I think that the larger companies, those with private aircraft, being able to come in and our of the airport here is advantageous to us," he said. "We certainly see the airport as an asset, and it is one of the things we like to tell companies about when they are considering us."

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