Rail’s removal comes at worst possible time 7/10/2015

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 10, 2015

John Howell Sr.

Rail’s removal comes at worst possible time

This week from the two-steps-forward,-one-step-back department:
The Mississippi Department of Transportation sent a work crew on Tuesday to remove the Highway 35 rail crossing and to pave over the space, leaving some folks mad, some glad.

It is the timing that hurt worst. Less than two weeks after the announcement that Iowa Pacific Holdings will lease the line from the North Central Mississippi Rail Road Authority (NCMRRA), and only one week following a survey visit by Iowa Pacific president Ed Ellis looking for potential rail freight customers, the crossing’s demolition cuts off access for three potential Batesville customers.

There’s plenty of blame and excuses to go around: MDOT has been trying to get someone to repair the crossing since 2011.

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“We couldn’t find anyone who would take responsibility for repairs,” MDOT District Engineer Mitch Turner said. The rough crossing had become a safety hazard, he said.

Meanwhile, the grain elevator’s owner may have been delaying the expensive repairs because until NCMRRA’s June 26 announcement, there was no certainty that the rails would not be taken up and sold for salvage.

None of which matters now.

What matters is that a new crossing needs to be built. Northern District Highway Commissioner Mike Tagert has assured Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons that MDOT will expedite the necessary permitting.

Panola District Three Supervisor John Thomas said that he heard “a lot of complaints” from constituents about the wear and tear on their vehicles as they crossed the rails. (Highway 35 is a state highway whose maintenance is not the responsibility of the county, but of the MDOT.)
Yet as a the farmer of large acreages, Thomas said he realized the importance of having rail access as an option to transport grain products to markets.

So if MDOT has said they will help and county, city, Partnership and other business leaders are jumping up and down to get a new rail crossing built on Highway 35, we can get this done. Maybe the new railroad company can pitch in as well.

Not in my lifetime do I recall a greater sense of urgency to promote rail access.