All you see right now are stacks of railroad ties and a gravel parking lot.
Photos of the Houston Railroad Museum’s proposed East End location
“Well, we’re downtown in the East End and we’re looking at about two acres of property at the intersection of Commerce and St. Charles Street.”
Phil Scheps is treasurer of the Houston Railroad Museum. He’s showing us a piece of land that’s been used by railroads since the late 1800’s.
It could now become home to the museum’s collection of historic rail cars and locomotives.
Scheps says one thing that makes the property attractive is that it’s the only place in Houston where you can still find a working rail spur that runs down the middle of a street.
“Periodically you do have that unusual view of refrigerator cars going right now Commerce Street, right between the condominiums and townhomes that are popping up.”
The museum has to relocate 16 old rail cars and three locomotives. They’ve been on display for the past 35 years in a northeast Houston industrial park.
But the business that owns the property is expanding and that means the museum has to move.
One of their options is to move to the East End property that’s now owned by Union Pacific. Scheps says the railroad has agreed to sell the land, but they only have six months to make the deal happen, and the museum will have to raise about a million dollars to cover the purchase price and improvements.
“We have to put in a rail yard with 2000 feet of track and we have to put in fences and utilities and parking improvements and security lighting and so forth.”
But the railroad museum may have a less expensive option, and that’s in the City of Tomball. Officials there have offered the museum a spot near Tomball’s historic train depot.
“The city owns some land just south of there that we felt would be a very good mixture, it would be a good fit for us and the railroad.”
That’s Tomball City Manager George Shackleford.
“Tomball was founded on the railroad. That’s one of the factors it was founded on, and we felt a railroad museum would be absolutely a perfect fit. It would be a perfect destination point.”
But bringing the rail cars to Tomball would pose a challenge.
BNSF Railway operates the nearby tracks, and Shackleford says it would have to install a permanent rail switch to accommodate the museum.
“They obviously are reluctant to put in a switch, a full-time switch, because it does affect the main lanes.”
Meanwhile back at Commerce and St Charles, Scheps says he doesn’t want to see the museum’s collection broken up and sold off.
“Houston used to be known in the 1920’s as ‘The City Where 17 Railroads Meet the Sea.’ So it’s important as you consider any historical museum. It’s a key part of Houston’s past, and of course, the future.”