Railroad Owner

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 29, 2009

“It’s been a long time I’ve seen this diverse a group from this part of the state working together on something,” Representative Warner McBride said Tuesday as the auditorium at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery filled with people concerned about the future of rail service in North Mississippi. North Mississippi Herald photo courtesy Jack Gurner

Group forms to ask intentions of railroad line’s new owner

By John Howell Sr.

CN Railroad’s May 12 announcement of a pending sale of its Grenada rail line connecting Jackson and Memphis motivated interest among affected municipalities and counties along its route sufficient to attract an overflow crowd to a Tuesday meeting at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery auditorium at Enid Lake.

That crowd included a host of Panola officials — county supervisors Gary Thompson, Bubba Waldrup and Kelly Morris; County Administrator Kelley Magee, Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye, Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey, Batesville aldermen Bill Dugger, Stan Harrison, and Teddy Morrow; TVEPA general manager Brad Robison, and Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons.

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The CN announcement that the proposed buyer, Grenada Railway LLC, is a non-carrier affiliate of a company engaged in railroad salvage prompted speculation that the sale is the first move toward the line’s abandonment. The buyer is also an affiliate of V & S Railway, which operates short lines in Colorado and Kansas, according to CN’s sale announcement.

Elected and appointed officials from municipal, county, state and federal government were joined by economic development representatives at the meeting organized by state representatives Warner McBride of Batesville and Tommy Reynolds of Water Valley.

“We need to meet with the prospective owner and determine what their intentions are,” said Chip Morgan of the Delta Council.

“On something like this, it would be so much easier to work with a single body,” said Brad Morris, Congressman Travis Childers’ chief of staff.

In the end, that’s what happened. An impromptu coalition of representatives of each of the affected counties, municipalities and economic development organizations was appointed to meet quickly to select a small committee to meet with officials of Grenada Railway LLC and V & S Railway. Expediency is necessary because the 30-day sale notice from CN began with its notification letter to state officials dated May 12.

Bob “Coach” Tyler of Water Valley was appointed secretary pro tempore of the coalition.

 Others attending included county and municipal elected officials and economic developers from DeSoto, Tate, Yalobusha, Grenada, Montgomery, Calhoun, LeFlore, Holmes and Carroll Counties, Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor and other Mississippi Department of Transportation officials, representatives from the Delta Council, the Mississippi Development Authority, the offices of Congressman Childers and Senator Roger Wicker.

“It’s been a long time I’ve seen this diverse a group from this part of the state working together on something,” Representative McBride said at the meeting’s finish.

“It’s going to be up to all of us at this point to convince the new owners that the business is going to be there for them,” said Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons. Simmons said that the railroad’s plans could have an immediate impact on one as-yet-unannounced industrial expansion in Panola County.

Tate County economic development official Jane Mortimer said that the question about continued rail service in her county could also threaten a project pending there.