Legislators oppose sale of rail lines

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Local legislators voted along with the rest of the Mississippi House to oppose the approval of the sale of rail lines in Mississippi, including the 66-mile line from Natchez to Brookhaven.

In a resolution passed last Friday, the legislators asked the State Transportation Board to deny approval for the transfer of ownership of 252 miles of railroad track from Canadian National Railway to two companies, Natchez Railway LLC and Grenada Rail LLC, if the companies could not guarantee the rail lines would stay open long-term.

The deal between Canadian National and Natchez Railway has not been made public, but Canadian National has said that it includes two years continued service to the lines.

Email newsletter signup

District 94 Rep. Robert Johnson III said when he first heard of the sale, he was excited because he thought it might bring more rail traffic down the line.

But that excitement dimmed when he heard one of the parent companies of Natchez Railway is in the railroad salvage business.

“They do operate some (rail) lines, but what they do mostly is tear up tracks that are not in use and sell them for salvage,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t make sense when we are trying to get more industry into Natchez to tear up tracks.”

In the stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year included $8 billion for railroad projects, and Johnson said he believes closing rail lines would be shutting the door on development opportunities he feels are inevitable.

“We understand (rail) is the most economic way to transport any product or people across the country,” Johnson said.

“We have two things working for us here, a rail line that connects us to I-55 and the river.”

District 97 Rep. Sam Mims said he met with one of the executives of the rail company this week, and the executive expressed to him a desire to keep the rail line open.

“Obviously, we can’t tell a private company what to do, but I think the resolution stated our hope that the rail system would stay open and active,” Mims said. “It is in the best interest of Adams County and southwest Mississippi to have an open and active rail system.”

District 96 Rep. Angela Cockerham said her main concern was keeping assets the area already has.

“You hate to see businesses close or things taken away from a county, and anything we can keep in Adams County, I think we should,” Cockerham said.

“I don’t want there to be a sale, and then there is not any kind of railway in our area. If there is a sale and somebody to operate it, it is completely different.”

Natchez-Adams County Port Commissioner Anthony Hauer said that, while Canadian National solely owns the line from Natchez to Brookhaven, the tracks within the port are owned by the port commission.

Without the Canadian National line, the port tracks would be cut off from outside transportation.