The argument over the last couple of years in Newton County is that the abandoned rail road corridor that runs from Porterdale through Covington and Mansfield into Newborn should be turned into trails. The problem is many people in the community, including myself, feel that in the current economic climate, and with the counties budget constraints this is an issue not even worth consideration.
During the 4th Of July in downtown Porterdale this year traffic was horrible coming into town. It took close to 45 minutes to get through traffic and find a parking spot. After getting through town and parking we were finally able to enjoy the food, entertainment, and the rest of the festivities. I ran into a few old friends from high school, and my daughter had a great time making new friends with the other children on the jumpers and slides. Then again at the end of the night the entire experience was dampened by the traffic. We sat at a standstill for more than an hour trying to get home. It was a school night and by the time the fireworks were over it was already late. During that hour in traffic something popped into my head that made complete sense. Why aren't we taking advantage of the rail system that has been abandoned? The longer I thought about it the angrier I became. Our leadership in Newton County is so busy fighting each other on small issues that they fail to think outside the box.
We are missing an opportunity to open Newton County up for more business, ease of access to our parks, and less traffic. Our county needs something original. We need something to set us apart. If we can purchase the existing rail corridor and lease the access to someone who owns a commuter train, or invest in our own commuter train we can increase commerce and decrease traffic. Just imagine the possibilities. On the 4th of July for example; if we had a station in each of the four cities on the rail line we could bring people from Newborn, Mansfield, and Covington into Porterdale without them having to drive all the way across town just to sit in traffic for nearly two hours. They could simply drive to the station and jump on the train.
New businesses would pop up around the stations increasing commerce and creating new jobs. Plus, existing businesses like Blackwell's in downtown Mansfield and the downtown district in Covington would see an up tick from the increased foot traffic. The employees who work at these businesses would save money on fuel and wear and tear on their vehicles, and people who go out drinking would have a low-cost way to get home without drinking and driving. People would get on the train and ride to town to grab groceries instead of jumping in their cars and driving. Families could jump on the train in Mansfield or Newborn and ride to Turner Lake Park for baseball, football, or softball practice. Residents in Porterdale could jump on the train and ride into town to walk to Sharp Stadium and watch their beloved Rams play football on Friday nights. All of this could be done and it would benefit the entire community.
This is not something that would take a lot of time. Money can be made, and the benefits definitely out-weigh the risks. Plus, owning the rail corridor makes sense. Not only can the land be used for the rail line but it would also work as an easement for us to run utilities across the county. This would set us apart from the surrounding counties and make us special. The demographic I belong to, 25 - 35 year olds with families and college degrees, wants amenities like this. A train ride to the square on a Friday night would be nice. Concerts on the square would see more attendants and less traffic. Teenagers without cars would be able to get to work at new jobs created by the rail line. Elderly people who can no longer drive, or just don't like driving would have more incentive to get out of the house and spend money.
This is a huge opportunity for the county. If implemented properly profit can be made. Yearly passes could be made available. People around the county would be more in tune with special events, and more inclined to stay in-town during holidays and join in with the festivities within the community. People would be more likely to shop in Newton than to travel elsewhere to shop. It is time to do something special in Newton County.
Personally I know I would use the train. I've talked to friends and family that would use the train. There is a need for this in our community. I am presenting this idea as a challenge to our county commissioners and other community leaders. It is time to go big or go home. Rails-to-Trails is a nice idea with some great people behind it but the cost-benefit side of it is out of balance. Rails-to-Rails has the potential to be something big. There would be less car traffic and more foot traffic. It would promote walking and give citizens better access to our parks and other amenities. There will be more people shopping in our downtown districts and less people drinking and driving.
Start the discussion with your friends and family. Let's see if we can get people talking about something that could seriously make an impact around town. We should not miss this opportunity. The idea that we can't or shouldn't do big things has to come to and end. Investing money in our county to promote growth should be a non issue. Giving our citizens a new form of transportation that will take them to our parks, our business districts, and our special events shouldn't be thrown on the back burner. Together we can make this happen.
Ketchem is a salesman by trade with a passion for local politics and community issues.