Uphill battle

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011

By John Howell Sr.

North Mississippi counties opposed to the Grenada Railway’s plans to abandon its Grenada-to-Canton track face an uphill battle, a Natchez attorney said during a meeting last week.
“This is a tough proposition but not impossible,” Walter Brown said.

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey and Alderman Stan Harrison joined Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons to attend in Grenada a meeting of government and economic development officials who are attempting to form a North Mississippi Railroad Authority (NMRA) to slow the abandonment process. Several representatives of companies that ship freight on the rail line also attended.

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Grenada Railway filed with the Surface Transportation Board on September 20 a Petition For Abandonment Exemption that would allow the rail, timbers and other salvageable material to be removed and sold on the portion of the railroad in Grenada, Montgomery, Carroll, Holmes, Yazoo and Madison counties.

Brown, who has been hired to help create a railroad authority on another short line under threat of abandonment, spoke Friday to officials of local government and economic development at the invitation of Pablo Diaz, Executive Director of the Grenada County Economic Development District (GCEDD).

“I would suggest that this is the first of a two-step process,” Brown said. The second step would be abandonment of the rail north from Grenada to Southaven, he said.
Brown said that public comment on the proposal to fast-track the abandonment process is due by October 27.

“Most important is comment from shippers; one shipper can make a big difference,” the attorney continued. He urged the group to call for a full hearing on the abandonment.
“If we can do that, we’ve achieved a victory, a short-term victory forcing the railroad to go back to the nine to 12 month process for the abandonment,” he said.

The delay would give affected counties time to form a railroad authority that could search to find another operator for the line.

Boards of Supervisors in Panola and Grenada counties have already adopted resolutions stating intention to form the NMRA.

“I think you need to form one, no matter where it goes,” Brown said.

Brown’s overview of abandonment attempts also included:

• Observation that abandonment of duplicated or low traffic lines was the intention of rail companies. The Gloster line was first followed by the proposed abandonment of the Grenada-to-Canton portion of Illinois Central’s old main line. He expects the Natchez to Brookhaven line’s abandonment to be proposed next followed by the Grenada to Southaven portion of the old IC line that serves Panola and other counties;

• Grenada Railway LLC is owned by a railroad salvage company. Its intention to abandon the line is driven by the price of steel that raises salvage profits;

• A true short-line railroad operating company has expressed interest in operating the line if it can be saved through NMRA.

Canadian National, citing its duplicated routes between Memphis and Jackson, sold the line to Grenada Railway in 2009.