Natchez railroad safe for at least a year

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Natchez &8212; Canadian National has agreed to hold off abandoning its Natchez-to-Brookhaven rail line for one year, Gov. Haley Barbour announced Monday.

In a June Canadian National, parent company of Illinois Central Railroad, announced it was considering possible abandonment of the line within three years.

What changed the minds of company officials? In part, the reopening of Georgia-Pacific&8217;s mills Roxie and Gloster to process hardwood felled by Hurricane Katrina.

Email newsletter signup

The reopening of those mills alone wouldn&8217;t be enough freight to consider keeping the CN line going.

But GP&8217;s action inspired CN to also act as a &8220;good corporate citizen&8221; by keeping its rail line functioning at least another year, Barbour said.

&8220;They felt that they could do this to try and help&8221; the state&8217;s economy after Katrina, he said.

Barbour said he&8217;s been in talks for some time with CN about the possibility of keeping the line open for now.

Last week, the governor received word the line would probably stay open another year, but actual confirmation came Monday.

Larry L. &8220;Butch&8221; Brown, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said he is in the process of rescheduling a meeting with officials of rail companies about possible future operation of the line.

Brown said he will meet with officials of CN as well as companies looking to possibily operate the line as a local, or &8220;short-line,&8221; railroad.

&8220;As far as time (to work out a deal) is concerned, we&8217;re in good shape,&8221; Brown said.

Woody Allen, chairman of the Economic Development Authority, was heartened by Barbour&8217;s announcement, saying it &8220;buys us more time&8221; to fashion a deal to operate the rail line in the future.

That&8217;s critical to getting many industries, especially manufacturing, into the Miss-Lou, Allen said.

&8220;Just about everybody you talk to as far as manufacturing is concerned, wants to know about two things: your port and your railroad,&8221; Allen said.

Meanwhile, Barbour said the state continues to work on landing new industries for southwest Mississippi and expanding existing ones, giving the rail line enough freight to operate in the future.

It&8217;s too preliminary to talk about those prospects in detail, especially since &8220;some of those are dependent on government contracts,&8221; Barbour said.

He would say, however, that &8220;southwest Mississippi continues to be an area of special efforts for job creation. We&8217;re working to improve job growth.&8221;

Why did CN publish its June newspaper notice, saying it intended to abandon the line?

The federal Surface Transportation Board requires railroads to submit to the board, and publish, a map of their statewide system on a regular basis.If the railroad is even considering the possibility of abandoning a line in the next three years, the notice must also include that information.

Also, CN has experienced a decrease in revenues on the line in recent years.

If a deal with CN fell through, MDOT could operate the line, since the Legislature authorized it a couple of years ago to own and operate railroad lines.