End of the line for ETRY

Photo By Rick Harris
Only empty railroad track remains after East Tennessee Railway (ETRY) ended commercial rail service to Elizabethton.

By Thomas Wilson
East Tennessee Railway (ETRY) still owns a large portion of rail track running through Elizabethton, but an all but non-existent customer base in the city has effectively ended commercial railroad transportation.
"Unless some miracle happens over there, we ain't coming back," said Keith Holley, general manager of ETRY in Johnson City.
Dozens of rail cars lining the track along Stateline Road were removed late last week. Holley said the 100 rail cars moved out of Elizabethton were being stored in Johnson City. The railway made its final gas tank delivery to Blossman Gas and Appliance in August, he said.
"We still have not abandoned the line, but we don't have any business there anymore," said Edwin Clark, director of operations with Rail Management Corporation (RMC), which owns ETRY.
ETRY once counted Mapes, Paty's, Alcoa Extrusions, and Snap-On Tools as Elizabethton industry customers for the company's railway services. ETRY interchanges with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern in Johnson City. The railroad operates with two locomotives and maintains the train shop and office in Johnson City.
Holley said ETRY maintained a lucrative business in Johnson City with "transloading" commodities via rail-to-truck shipments.
With headquarters in Panama City Beach, Fla., RMC owns 14 short-line railroads in 10 states. ETRY made its final in-bound delivery to its last largest customer -- Inland Paperboard and Packaging plant on West Elk Avenue -- in May. Inland announced that the company was closing its West Elk Avenue facility in March.
When asked whether RMC expected to see industrial growth that could renew railroad service in Elizabethton in the near future, Clark said "I really have no idea."
Chartered in 1866 as the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, the line ran from Johnson City to Boone, N.C. RMC purchased the railroad in 1983. ETRY has cut its employee base down from approximately 14 employees in the last 26 years to two.
Although rail transport has ceased, ETRY still owns railroad track running through Elizabethton. The railway donated a portion of rail line right-of-way to the city of Elizabethton earlier this year to accommodate future development of the Veterans War Memorial on East Elk Avenue.
Elizabethton City Council last week authorized the removal of roughly 832 feet of railroad track extending through the downtown area. The city will pay a private company $9,031.20 to remove rail ties and cross ties from north of East Elk Avenue to Cedar Avenue.
"We've just suspended operations until something happens," said Holley. "We hope people respect that and stay the heck off of (the track)."