After 150 years, Union Pacific leaving Palestine; 57 jobs lost

Local News

PALESTINE, Texas (KETK) — The Union Pacific Railroad is closing its rail car repair facility in Palestine.

“Union Pacific notified employees at its Palestine Car Facility yesterday (Thursday) that as many as 57 positions will be eliminated in mid-June,” Robynn Tysver, the railroad’s manager of communications, said. “This workforce reduction is the result of operational changes across our system and is part of Union Pacific’s continuous effort to provide competitive rail service to our customers. While Union Pacific is closing our Main Car Repair Facility in Palestine, limited car repair activities will continue in the Palestine area.”

The Palestine car shop is one of two Union Pacific Railroad car shops that perform heavy modifications and repairs to freight cars, the company said. “At one time, it employed more than 100 people.

After Union Pacific announced in 2019 that it wanted to end its agreement with the city, state Rep. Cody Harris, R-Corsicana, and state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, said in a joint statement that nullifying the contract would have a “devastating impact on our local economy and the 60 families who’ve devoted their lives and their careers to Union Pacific.”

Union Pacific’s decision to leave Palestine comes 10 weeks after a federal judge in Tyler ruled that the railroad was no longer bound by a contract to keep jobs there.

District Judge Jeremy Kernodle denied a motion by the city that would have prevented Union Pacific from leaving. Kernodle called the original contract “a nineteenth-century relic — a shop agreement.”

“This is a devastating blow to this area and these jobs,” Rich Johnson, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union that represents railroad workers, said in a statement following the judge’s ruling. “We are disappointed with this decision. There is no end to the corporate greed with the UP.”

In 1872, Union Pacific and the city entered into a contract in which the railroad promised to stay in Palestine. Union Pacific argued that the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act made the contract unenforceable.

According to information on the Union Pacific website, there have been railroad jobs in Palestine since 1872 when the International Railroad and the Houston and Great Northern Railroad had tracks that met there. The railroads merged to become the International and Great Northern Railroad.

“Palestine became an important location for steam locomotive and coach repairs when the IGN built its first major depot there in 1892,” the company history states. “In 1902, a modern passenger coach shop was built. These shops remained in operation until 1954, when the present facility was built exclusively for freight car repair. During this period, the IGN became part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, then ultimately Union Pacific Railroad.”

Earlier this year state, city, and county representatives met with Union Pacific officials in an effort to keep the railroad and its jobs in Palestine.

The company said it did not take the decision to close the Palestine shop lightly.

“We are determined to do the right thing for the thousands of customers, employees and communities who rely on us to help build sustainable economic growth across the western two-thirds of the U.S.,” Tysver said. “We appreciate the support we have received over the years in the communities of Palestine and Anderson County, as well as the hard work and dedication of our employees.’

The company said it is helping those losing their jobs find new jobs.

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