As one of few ports in the nation to have rail capability on its property, the Port of Galveston is in a unique position to market that as a draw for industry, Director Rodger Rees said.
But, before leaders at the public docks can take advantage of it, they must first answer questions about who exactly owns the city’s miles of rail lines, Rees said.
Port officials have for months been combing through often conflicting historical documents and reaching out to other interested parties to determine what parts of the rail line the public docks own, said Ted O’Rourke, chairman of the port’s governing board.
The main issue is determining who owns what when many records are contradictory, Rees said.
“A lot of the records are just incomplete on who owns the rail,” Rees said. “All the real estate, if it is unowned, could go to the port.”
The port owns an unspecified number of rail miles, called the Galveston Railroad, which is a separate entity owned through the governing board and operated by a management company called Genesee & Wyoming, Rees said.
While the public docks’ railroad used to own cars and actually ship items, it now operates similarly to a toll road, charging cars that use it, Rees said.
Some documents show the port owns about 35 miles of rail line, while others show as much as 55, Rees said. But even that’s complicated because some of the miles could be buried rail line.
Genesee & Wyoming, for instance, shows it currently manages about 39 miles of rail line, according to records.
The port currently receives about 20 percent of revenues that Genesee & Wyoming generates through collecting “switching” revenue from railway companies that use the tracks, Rees said.
Leaders at the public docks anticipate rail revenues will bring about $500,000 to the port in the current fiscal year, but those profits used to be considerably higher, Rees said.
“Three years ago, we were making $1.5 million off the railroad, but it’s down to $500,000,” Rees said. “What’s driving that? Less rail coming into the port, is a big part of it. It’s not rocket science.”
Once the port completes its research project in coming months, and has a better idea of what it owns, it can move forward determining how to increase revenues, Rees said.
The city’s ongoing asset review might also help the port figure out what it owns and doesn’t, said Mayor Jim Yarbrough, who also is on the port’s governing board.
“There’s just a lot of potential there that I don’t believe has been marketed,” Rees said of the railroad’s possibilities. “We’re really trying to understand what is the port’s and what isn’t so we can market and bring in new business to the port. But we’ve got to know what we have to deal with.”