Union Pacific in Talks to Buy Out 20 Hearne Land Owners

By: Nicole Morten Email
By: Nicole Morten Email

Last week we told you about more than 200 jobs coming to Robertson County if Union Pacific Rail is given the green light to build a $200-million rail terminal between Hearne and Mumford. While that may be a positive impact on the economy -- it also means nearly two dozen business and landowners in Hearne -- could be forced out.

With roots that run deep in the rail industry, it was only a matter of time until the big giants would stake claim inside Robertson County.

"Union Pacific has roots that connect all through Hearne, Out of all of Texas they selected Hearne and Mumford for an ideal yard if they put one in Texas,” said Kent Brunette, of the Hearne Chamber of Commerce.

As a hub for Union Pacific's central Texas rail line, Hearne has become a ‘home away from home’ for trains that carry cargo in and out daily.

Seven different UP subdivisions operate out of Hearne and nearby Valley Junction. These include UP’s Austin, Bryan, Ennis, Ft. Worth, Giddings, Hearne, and Navasota subs which extend as far as Ft. Worth, Longview, Houston, Smithville, and San Antonio.

With a new southwestern Robertson County yard, Hearne would also become a “home” terminal where some Hearne-based railroaders would work in the local yard as well as take assembled trains to the far reaches of the above subdivisions.

A spokesperson for UP says the facility would cost $200-million to build and employ a significant number of people.

"The economic impact is going to be huge and the terminal will bring 200 new permanent jobs, 1000 temporary construction jobs and people who will be in the county,” said Brunette. “We've had people calling wanting to build new hotels, wanting to build duplexes, wanting to fix up rental houses and all sorts of things people are asking about but it all hinges on Union Pacific.”

According to a release from UP, “Starting pay would be around $40,000 a year with great benefits. Railroad employees with seniority get paid more. UP wants to build its new yard outside of Hearne because this spot is in a key location on UP’s route map.”

In order for this to happen, Union Pacific would have to purchase 1,100 acres, and for 20 different property owners living in the rail line; it's a matter of picking up and selling the only place they've ever called home.

"I’ve been living here 60 years and I never once ever thought I could one day be homeless,” said Hearne property owner Luke Collette.

Those are just some of the worries from property owners living in the epicenter of Union Pacific's proposed rail line. This planned new UP classification yard would be built on the west side of the two sets of north/south railroad tracks that come through Mumford. It would stretch some five miles from just north of the new baseball complex to Muse Road.

Luke Collette is from Hearne, in fact, he grew up in the same house he’s living in today.

“My daddy built this house and he passed it down to me,” said Collette. “My family used to farm just like everyone that lives around me has farmed all their life, I mean, you’ve got families living next door that have farmed here for generations.”

UP had two plans in place for the rail yard; and it ended up ruling in favor for Collette.

“I have neighbors though that will have to pick up and move. How do you pick up and move a farm that’s been around for generations?” questioned Collette. “These families, like the Scarmardo’s, the Corpora’s, they have businesses that I'm certain they want passed down to their kids, their grandkids and so forth. You just can’t put a price tag on that.”

Since Collette lives on Farm to Market Road 50, he worries the road will eventually need to be widened; something that would threaten his home.

"They don't want all of those heavy trucks traveling down any other road out here, so they come down 50," said Collette. "When you've got that much weight and that much traffic traveling through here, there's no doubt in my mind it will need to grow, just like the population will grow."

"I've heard the process of building the yard will take 16-18 months and dealing with the land ownership issues could take a year prior to that," said Brunette. "So in all, we're looking at three-and-a-half years or so until the yard is operational."

When the time comes, Collette says it's an unsettling reality that he and his neighbor's will one day have to face.

“I could have a bigger house in the middle of a big city, but still, it will never be my home,” said Collette.

“I really feel for the landowners right now,” said Brunette. “It’s a tough situation, and I personally know these people. You’ve got to think about agricultural jobs to be lost as well, but right now everything is relatively fresh from the last six weeks, so in time we’ll be able to unearth a lot of that uncertainty.”

Hearne city officials say the terminal it would be providing Mumford ISD with a major boost.

While agricultural, oil, and gas activities have traditionally supported Mumford ISD’s tax base, this UP project would significantly expand Mumford ISD’s tax base by placing a major facility in its midst. Some Mumford retail development might also be expected.

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