Railroad Coalition

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Coalition expects to see railroad continue

By John Howell Sr.

The chairman of the North Mississippi Railroad Coalition said that he is convinced new owners of the Memphis-to-Canton rail line recently sold by CN Railroad intend to continue operation.

“They are in the process of checking out their engines, crossing signals, tracks, roadbeds, bridges, etc.,” said Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart, chairman of the North Mississippi Rail Coalition.

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“The road bed is generally accepted as being solid and the company will be working to eliminate slow orders in order to move the trains faster, thus giving the customers better service,” Hart said.

CN Railroad’s May 13 announcement of its intention to sell its Memphis-to-Canton rail line connecting Vaiden, Winona, Grenada, Oakland, Batesville, Sardis, Senatobia, and Horn Lake created concern in the communities served that the sale would be a step toward abandonment of the track. CN operates a parallel line through the Delta connecting Memphis and Jackson.

The concern led to the creation of the rail coalition with representatives from affected counties.

Hart, a former Illinois Central engineer who operated trains on the line, has maintained his contacts in the industry and was chosen the coalition’s chairman.

“They’re fixing to do upgrades all up and down the line,” Panola Partnership Chief Executive Officer Sonny Simmons told the Sardis mayor and aldermen at the August 4 meeting. Simmons has helped United Solutions obtain grant funding for an additional rail spur to service its facility in the Sardis Industrial Park.

The spur is expected to help generate the additional rail business that the line’s new owner, Grenada Railway LLC, needs to remain viable.

Hart cited the Sardis spur as well as a new spur anticipated at Horn Lake in his statement.

“The company (Grenada Railway) will be working aggressively to improve service and add new customers,” Hart said. “Customers should be more comfortable in the area of service since they are dealing with a smaller railroad and a more hands-on management,” he said.