Railroad to be derailed?

Published 12:46 am Monday, May 17, 2010

NATCHEZ — Owners and operators of the 66-mile railway from Natchez and Brookhaven are working to recruit additional business for the line.

Mayor Jake Middleton, Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Chairman Woody Allen and other officials recently met with representatives of Salt Lake City-based Natchez Railway, LLC and A&K Railroad Materials, Inc., to discuss the railroad’s future.

“They were not here to talk about pulling up any track,” Middleton said. “They were on a trip to see where they can grow their business.”

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Middleton said local businesses such as Mississippi River Corp., and J.M. Jones Lumber Company depend heavily on the railway, since most of its inventory is shipped by rail.

In Franklin County, American Railcar Industries, a railroad car repair and refurbishing company in Bude, is asking for help to combat a new train car tariff enforced by Natchez Railway.

ARI is being charged a switching fee of $700 for each railcar that enters and exits its facility, and officials fear the tariff will force ARI to relocate.

“American Railcar is the biggest employer in Franklin County,” Middleton said. “They have a major concern.”

Middleton said currently 10 railcars travel from Natchez to Brookhaven weekly, and rising operating costs have prompted Natchez Railway to seek more clients.

“They’ve had to increase fees, and I understand it’s a matter of economics,” Middleton said. “Additional businesses on the line would solve these problems.”

The railway, once owned by Canadian National, was sold to Natchez Railway and Grenada Rail LLC last year. Legislators at the time opposed the sale of the railroad if the companies could not guarantee the rail lines would stay open long-term.

Repeated attempts to reach representatives of Natchez Railway and A&K Railroad Materials were unsuccessful.

Middleton said southwest Mississippi region cannot afford to lose the railway.

“We’ve got to save that rail or you’re going to see a lot of companies in trouble,” Middleton said. “I think it will be devastating to existing industries and future industry if we were to lose it.”