ETR makes last inbound delivery to Inland Container

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   East Tennessee Railway made its final inbound railcar delivery to Inland Container Corp. Thursday as the paper company prepares to close its doors -- and railway officials are left to ponder their company's future in Elizabethton.
   "We took the last inbound car to Inland Container today," said Keith Holley, general manager of ETR in Johnson City. "What's left will be all scrap paper."
   The future presence of East Tennessee Railway in Elizabethton is speculative given the decreased customer base for rail operations in town. As companies have closed or relocated, the city and county have lost tax dollars while ETR has lost customers. The Railway once counted Mapes, Paty's, Alcoa Extrusions, and Snap-On Tools as customers for railway services. Still, the railway's parent company says no decision affecting railway service in Elizabethton has been made.
   "No decision has been made as of this point," said Edwin Clark, vice president of operations for Rail Management Corp. (RMC) in Panama City Beach, Fla., which owns the railway. "Business is a little slow up there in Elizabethton right now, but we will continue on an as-needed basis."
   East Tennessee Railway is one of 13 railways and one trucking company owned by RMC. The railway maintains three customers in Johnson City. During the summer months when gas heat demand plummeted, Holley said the railway averaged only one or two deliveries to the gas company each month.
   "As far as our railway, rail transportation is slightly down just due to the economy of the country," said Clark, "but we haven't lost any ground to the trucks as well."
   The railway announced Thursday via fax that it would be disconnecting its Elizabethton telephone number effective May 1. The company's Johnson City telephone and fax numbers remain online and unchanged.
   Inland's corporate office announced the plant's closure in March, which when completed will leave approximately 130 people out of work.
   Chartered in 1866 as the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, the line ran from Johnson City to Boone, N.C. By the time the railroad was purchased by RMC in 1983, the rail line that runs from Elizabethton, through Doe River Gorge in Hampton, to Boone had been abandoned. Today, ETRY uses only 11 miles of the original track.