Railroad has first meeting

Published 12:09 am Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BUDE — More than a dozen leaders from three counties met Monday to stoke the engine of the newly formed Southwest Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority.

The authority was created by state legislation passed earlier this year and resolutions from Adams, Franklin and Lincoln counties.

Each county contains a portion of a 66-mile stretch of railroad track that links the Adams County Port to connecting rail lines in Brookhaven. Each county appointed five commissioners to the railroad authority.

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The railroad has been a source of worry since Canadian National sold it to a newly formed company, Natchez Railway LLC. The new owners have ties to a railroad salvage company leading many local leaders and railroad customers to believe line is in jeopardy of being scrapped.

Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc. — Natchez and Adams County’s economic development engine — said he was pleased that the railroad authority is moving along.

“First, the organization will continue to be a backstop measure in the event of an abandonment, second it will be a collective voice for the governmental entities and to the customers and to the regulatory bodies and third it’s there to discuss potential ownership transition,” Russ said.

Monday’s first meeting went well, he said.

“Fourteen of the 15 commissioners were on hand,” said Natchez Inc. executive director Chandler Russ, who attended the meeting. “They adopted the articles of incorporation unanimously.”

In addition, the group selected officers for the group. The president of the board, representing Adams County, will be Dan Bland. The vice president, representing Franklin County, will be Gary Jones. Cliff Brumfield from Lincoln County will serve as the group’s secretary-treasurer.

Russ said he and others with Natchez Inc. gave the group an update on plans moving forward and the tasks in front of them.

“It was a good informational meeting,” he said.

As the group gets formed, sets its bylaws and gets rolling, Russ said the group will “set out to explore options between the company and the rail authority.”

Three potential sales options exist, Russ said.

4Natchez Railway could sell to another short-line rail operator that aims to work the line aggressively.

4Natchez Railway could sell the railway back to Canadian National. Russ said CN might be inclined to consider the repurchase since the line has the potential to earn the company more money because, “Potentially, the existing traffic coupled with potential new traffic that may come could make it an attractive business option for them.”

4The Southwest Mississippi Railroad Authority could purchase the railroad outright. Russ said that notion might cause people to worry about taxes going up, but he said the railroad could potentially be purchased using partial funding from the federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program. Additional funding could be secured, if necessary, by the current revenue on the line and potential revenue new business developments might bring.

“It would be sufficient enough to purchase the railroad, outright,” Russ said. “It would be an indebtedness of the authority, not of the counties participating.

“The Federal Railroad Administration has done probably six to 10 lines this year.”

However, Natchez Railway publicly contends it is not aiming to shut down the line and has made no indication that it wishes to sell the railroad, though customers on the line have complained of increased fees since the railroad changed hands.

Russ said he’s excited by the authority and what its members bring to the table.

“The group is very conscientious and it was a very good kick-off meeting,” he said.