Railroad Abandonment

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2012

Alliance to fight railroad abandonment

By John Howell Sr.
Anticipating a second attempt by Grenada Railway to abandon track between Grenada and Canton, representatives of seven affected counties on Wednesday adopted by-laws Wednesday to form the North Mississippi Regional Rail Authority (NMRRA).

Over 30 rail authority members — appointed from the counties and municipalities served by Grenada Railway from Canton to Southaven — met in the Grenada County office building to appoint an executive board, elect its officers and plan strategy, including a response to a letter from Grenada Railway owner Michael Van Wagenen offering to sell the Grenada/Canton section of track for almost $22 million.

“Absolutely ridiculous,” said Robert Riley, a career railroader from Tate County, who said the amount was equal to what Van Wagenen’s companies paid for the entire 175-mile Canton-to-Southaven line, plus a route between Brookhaven and Natchez when it purchased the two lines from Canadian National in 2009.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“They’re planning on going back and pursuing a second abandonment in August,” said Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart, who, along with Grenada County Economic Development District Executive Director Pablo Diaz, had recently talked with Van Wagenen.

“It appears the north end of the line is doing well,” Hart said. “That north end of the line from Grenada up to around Horn Like is not for sale.”

The Water Valley mayor, who is a former Illinois Central engineer, said that Grenada Railway is telling MDOT that it plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the south end of the route to improve the north end.

“Then there are those of us who may be skeptical to the point who believe that once he gets the south end disposed of, … then the north end will be the next item to go on the block,” Hart said.

“That’s why even though you guys on the north are doing well right now on the railroad and you guys on the south are not, that’s why we need to stay united, because ultimately we’ll be in this thing together one day,” Mayor Hart continued.

Grenada Railway last August filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board for exemption from the full process for abandoning the 83 miles of track between Grenada and Canton. Economic development officials, rail shippers and representatives of city and county governments in the seven counties, suspecting that it was a first step leading to abandonment of the entire Canton-to-Southaven line, organized meetings to oppose the abandonment.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) joined the opposition, and in November Grenada Railway  dropped its plans for abandonment.

NMRRA evolved from the realization of the need for a legal entity that could pursue alternatives to abandonment. Wednesday’s meeting followed a May meeting between NMRRA interests and the Mississippi House of Representatives.  

NMRRA executive board members chosen Wednesday include Diaz for Grenada County, Hart for Yalobusha, Tate County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Janie Mortimer, Montgomery County Economic Development Partnership Executive Director Sue Stidham, Bobby Oliver of Carrollton for Carroll County and Lexington mayor Robin McCrory for Holmes.

Rail authority members also voted to ask Grenada Railway to provide an inspection tour of the 83 miles of track as soon as possible to gather information for a response to Van Wagenen’s sale offer.

“We’re planning for the long haul,” Diaz said, following Wednesday’s meeting.