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Ask Matt ... about Hendersonville trains

The Lightning's intrepid researcher finds answers to readers' questions.

Q. Do trains still run on the railroad tracks through Hendersonville?

Norfolk Southern Railroad has never disclosed train schedules but I poked around and found some information about recent train activity. Rail service has long been discontinued to the GE plant. Southern Concrete's Shepherd Street site was still getting sand by rail until about two years ago. Today it's trucked in from Columbia, S.C. Rail service to Brevard stopped in 2002. No, nothing is moving as far the city limits anymore.
The Kimberly-Clark plant in Balfour is the last industry on the Asheville-Hendersonville line to use rail freight. Trains run in the evenings and deliver synthetic polymers for the non-woven products the plant makes. There is a switching area just south of the plant so it is unnecessary for trains to continue into Hendersonville. Trains also run through Fletcher during evening hours to serve several industries in the Cane Creek Industrial Park but they usually don't see more than one short train a day. As reported in the Lightning, Norfolk Southern's Asheville-to-Hendersonville segment in Henderson County is now owned by Kansas-based Watco Transportation Services, which operates Western North Carolina lines as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad. At least for now there are no obvious "big ticket" railroad users in or around town, although Watco has a sales manager here trying to cultivate rail freight customers. I suspect that Hooterville balladeers won't be writing train songs anytime soon. Maybe road bike songs will be the new trend.

Q. I see some activity at the old Plants Direct greenhouse on N.C. 191. What is the new owner doing?

We reported here that Gaia Herbs purchased the 65,000-square-foot greenhouse last November. I spoke with Todd King, VP for Marketing for the company's Brevard operations. King said that the Mills River facility will be a state-of-the-art greenhouse used to propagate organic herbs such as basil, Echinacea and valerian root. When mature, those plants will be taken to Gaia's Brevard farm for growing, harvesting and production. King said that the greenhouse offices fronting on N.C. 191 will house the company's marketing and customer service departments. By early September, about 20 employees will be working at the site, which King describes as the "creative and customer service hub of the Gaia Herbs operations." King added that he grew up in Hendersonville and was a former "Bearcat" who moved away and is now glad to be back working in the area.