John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

Rail abandonment postponed; leaders should harness interest


Grenada Railway’s decision Thursday to withdraw its petition to abandon the south portion of its line from Grenada to Canton came as a pleasant surprise. The company’s lawyer, in his letter to the Surface Transportation Board, cited the tremendous political pressure from the national and state level that brought the STB decision to hold a public hearing.

Once that decision was in place, the railroad owners had no desire to face in person in public the overwhelming public support in Mississippi against abandoning that line.

The Grenada Railway letter cited opposition by Senator Thad Cochran, Congressman Gregg Harper, the Delta Regional Authority, the transportation committees of the Mississippi House and Senate and so on.
“None, however, has disputed that there are only five shippers on the 81.3 mile line proposed for abandonment,” Grenada Railway attorney Fritz Kahn wrote on his client’s behalf.

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His letter further cites low usage and fiscal losses in the line’s operation.

To cement the line’s future as a viable operation, the same energy that was coordinated to oppose the abandonment must be redirected to support the line’s continued operation. The numerous filings posted on the STB web site reveal many past or potential rail customers who would be willing to use the line if the operator would make its use consistently reasonable in cost and service. At least two filings with the STB came from operators of short railroad lines who are interested in buying the Grenada line.

The same unity and cooperation mustered to oppose the abandonment should now be redirected into making the rail line profitable.

With high fuel costs, an aging system of Interstate and secondary highways and deteriorating bridges along those routes, it makes no sense to lose the cheapest, most efficient transportation for large volume and heavyweight freight.