After a 36-year absence, passenger rail service has returned Hope to its roots.
Amtrak Governmental Affairs Director Todd Stennis emphasized the point Saturday before a crowd of more than 300 celebrating the inauguration of Amtrak Texas Eagle service twice daily from Hope in quoting from a congratulatory letter by Amtrak President Joseph Boardman that, “Amtrak now has Hope.”
“It's great to have Hope in the national Amtrak network,” Stennis said to cheers from the crowd as he presented Hope Parks and Tourism Director Paul Henley with official Amtrak service signage for the Hope Visitor and Information Center Depot.
Hope Vice Mayor Steve Montgomery reminded the celebrants that Hope was established as a railroad town during the laying of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad in 1872, and had enjoyed passenger rail service until 1977.
“The history books have to be rewritten because passenger service has returned to Hope in 2013,” Montgomery said.
City Manager Catherine Cook said the 15-year effort to bring about the renewed service made its realization worth the effort.
“It's truly more wonderful than we thought it would be,” Cook said.
And, State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, reminded his Hope constituents that they have been a vital part of the growth in the economy of Southwest Arkansas during a time of tough national economic recovery.
“I applaud Paul Henley and the folks who worked with them,” Teague said.
He said the renewed rail service will help tourism in Southwest Arkansas become a new economic engine for the region.
Former Congressman Mike Ross, D-Ar., was directly involved in the process, along with Teague, former State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, and city officials; and, Ross expressed not only his pride for Southwest Arkansas, but his understanding of the effort required.
“Thank you for your faith in the future,” Ross said.
He recalled the famous Hope reference in the first presidential campaign of President Bill Clinton.
“I, too, still believe in a place called Hope,” Ross said.
He recounted how he and Boardman had “a come to Jesus meeting” in the McLarty Room at the depot regarding the project, noting that the lengthy effort was grassroots-based, and that was impressive to Boardman.
“Now, for the first time in 40 years, you will be able to hear 'All aboard' in Hope,” Ross said.
The day was filled with family activities, including a classic car show, tailgating contest, rock climbing, and free food for the several thousand people who thronged downtown Hope.
Winners of two round-trip Amtrak tickets included Craig Robinson, winner of the Chicago trip, and Tyler Berlin, winner of the San Antonio trip. Both are from Hope.
Tailgating contest winners included the Get Hooked UT Longhorn Team, first place; Fulton Grass Co. team, second place; and Hippie Express team, third place. Winners received cash prizes of $1,000, $300, and $200, respectively, from the Hope Civitan Club, the contest sponsor.