At a cost of $3 million, Howard Industries has converted the vacant Armco Steel pipe mill here into a railroad shipping terminal that offers customers the option of five major railroads bidding on cargo.

Howard Industries, of Columbus, Ohio, opened its Texas terminal in late

December. The 35-acre site has 326,220 square feet of operating and storage space plus 10 miles of railroad track with direct access to the Port Terminal Railroad Association, or PTRA.We could never build something like this, said Robert Howard, president of the terminal, explaining his decision to purchase the large pipe mill last July. He says his company has invested $100,000 in reconstructing the rail tracks at the former mill.

Armco had produced pipe for the reconstruction of Western Europe, the offshore oil industry and the Texas-New York and Texas-Chicago pipelines, among others.

The new terminal offers a variety of services including bulk terminal operations; packaging from rail to truck in bags, boxes, drums and ocean containers; staging for double stack container trains; and railcar washing, storage and repair.

Howard promotes the terminal by citing the advantage it offers shippers, with five national carriers available in one location to bid for freight hauls: Burlington Northern, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Missouri-Kansas-Texas. The company says the terminal's location allows it to service five national railroad companies and the Houston Ship Channel.

It is unusual to have the flexibility of a terminal on the ship channel with equal service to all five railroads, says John Kirtly, executive assistant to the chairman of the PTRA. It fills a need for our customers.

Mr. Howard said his company had been seeking a facility here. He discovered the Armco mill, and decided to put the investment money into the track there, where he could have a direct access to the PTRA with its link to the five major carriers.

The company plans to recover some of its investment by selling the pipe mill overseas. Mr. Howard said the company is negotiating with the People's Republic of China about moving the machinery there.

The site includes two acres of land fronting on the Greens Bayou barge canal. It offers 8,950 feet of rail that make up 13 parallel tracks and can accommodate 125 railcars.