Union Pacific announced this week the construction of Brazos Yard, a 1,875-acre rail facility in Robertson County that will be the company's first newly built classification yard in more than two decades, and at $550 million the largest capital investment in a single facility in the company's 155-year history.
Jeff DeGraff, director of corporate relations and media for UP Railroad, said the decision to base the facility there was, in part, an easy one since the county and Hearne are "the crossroads of Texas."
Located south of U.S. 79, between the Brazos River and F.M. 50, DeGraff said the new facility will help with congestion from the seven existing UP rail lines in Hearne.
"Bringing a new facility to Texas, putting it there in Hearne, made a lot of sense for us because we have those access points," he said.
The facility will be a classification yard, receiving trains carrying mixed cargo. The rail cars will be separated and sorted before new trains are put together. Initial capacity will allow up 1,300 rail cars to be switched daily, making it one of the largest facilities of its kind in UP's network.
DeGraff said the new facility could lessen highway traffic, since businesses could choose to use freight rail to ship their goods rather than relying on trucks.
"One train can pull hundreds of goods off of the highway," he said.
The construction phase, which technically already has begun -- "We started moving dirt this month," DeGraff said -- is expected to bring between 500 and 550 construction jobs. More than 350 railroad employees will work at the facility when it is complete and open, around 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2016 the median annual wage for railroad workers was $57,160. The median household income in Robertson County was $49,142, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Robertson County Judge Charles Ellison said the project would "be a great boon to our tax base," since UP didn't ask for rebates or abatement.
Asked to provide a rough estimate, Ellison said the facility could bring in around $3 million annually in taxes paid to the county, though he stressed that this is only a "possibility" because there are too many unknowns as of now. Then there's the money brought from outside the county into Robertson.
"You can't quantify it all," he said.
Pete J. Bienski Jr., Mumford ISD superintendent, said the new facility could raise their tax base from $55 million to more than $500 million.
"What the railroad is gonna do, it should stabilize our tax base and give us a tax base," he said. "[It] should bring a lot more security as far as finances are concerned."
Bienski said he was concerned about increased train traffic on the track near the school, which could cause delays or block student or staff access. He said he also was concerned about increased vehicle traffic as a result of the facility's construction.
Adrain Johnson, Hearne ISD superintendent, said, "We're not real sure how [the new facility] will impact Hearne ISD, but we're excited for the community."
Johnson said it was "still too early" to know how many children will be moving to attend school in the district, "but we'll be monitoring the situation closely." He also said he did not believe the facility will be located in his district, but if it is, "it would certainly increase our tax base."
DeGraff said the construction phase of the facility would have an "immediate impact on the Hearne and Robertson County area."
"Those folks coming in will need a place to stay, they'll need a place to eat, they'll need a place to buy groceries," he said.
"This is not just a project for Union Pacific," DeGraff said, "but we know that it will have a positive impact on the community at large as far as economic development and bringing new opportunities to the area."
Ellison said the county didn't submit a proposal or have to apply for the rail facility.
"They just decided where they wanted it," he said. "We told them when they get it finished, it sure would be welcome."