Train to Christmas Town keeps on rolling
By John Howell
The “Train to Christmas Town” will continue to run as scheduled through the 2017 season after Circuit Judge Smith Murphey ruled Friday, Dec. 1, to grant a Motion for Emergency Stay sought by Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC to forestall the train’s seizure for unpaid debt.
Judge Murphey granted Iowa Pacific Holding’s request for a 45-day stay.
The Panola County Circuit Clerk’s office received the original petition for writ of execution on November 16 — the day of the first trial run of The Train To Christmas Town. Riders included invited guests. The petition was filed by Rail Events, Inc., franchisor of The Polar Express brand under which Batesville’s Christmas trains operated in 2015 and 2016.
An initial order granting a motion to postpone a seizure of the train was granted until last week’s hearing, which now extends the emergency stay until January 15.
Rail Events had sued Iowa Pacific in Durango, CO district court earlier this year for non-payment of a portion of the 30 percent royalties on Batesville 2016 ticket sales. Iowa Pacific countered that Rail Events had infringed on its franchised area by opening a Polar Express Train Ride in New Orleans during the 2016 season, siphoning away Louisiana and south Mississippi riders who might have otherwise bought tickets in Batesville.
Officials of both entities were unable to reach a settlement, and Iowa Pacific opted to operate its Christmas train in Batesville under the different name.
During the early months of 2017, local vendors also said they had not been paid for goods and services. Most said they eventually received payment, but one, Mississippi Detective and Security Services owner Normand Cote, sued Iowa Pacific in Panola County Circuit Court. Cote’s lawsuit seeks payment of $41,931.90 “for unpaid interest and late fee charges and monthly service charges.” The security company’s lawsuit acknowledges receiving three payments totaling $43,450.
Iowa Pacific Holdings leases the 187-mile rail line from Canton to Southaven and operates it as Grenada Railroad for the North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority (NCMRRA), which purchased the line in 2015 from a rail salvage company that had abandoned the rail from Grenada to Canton and was expected to abandon the northern portion.
The purchase was financed by state-issued bonds that Grenada Railroad is paying back.
Grenada Railroad is attempting to re-open the line south of Grenada while it repairs tracks and bridges along the entire route.
On July 4, arsonists set fire to the railroad’s bridge over the Yalobusha River in Grenada, curtailing the railroad’s ability to service several Grenada-area customers until mid-October when repairs were completed.
In August, NCMRRA received a $7.54 million grant to help restore the line between Grenada and Canton and for limited repairs north of Grenada. Proceeds from the grant are expected to start becoming available early next year.