City applies for TIGER grant to renovate railway

Published 12:04 am Sunday, May 10, 2015

NATCHEZ The historic railroad line between Brookhaven and Natchez, managed by Natchez Railway Inc., may soon receive $14.3 million worth of updates.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently received $500 million for transportation projects across the country under the seventh round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant program.

The program, more commonly known as “TIGER grants,” focuses on improving transportation while also emphasizing community revitalization.

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If the city’s application for the grant is approved, Community Development Director James Johnston said the entire railway, which spans 65 miles and includes approximately six bridges, would be completely repaired.

“We’re hoping to improve the train tracks and increase weight limits,” said Johnston, adding that the project would come at no cost to the city.

The railway typically hauls forestry and petroleum products along with empty cars for the railroad repair facility in Bude.

Johnston guessed hundreds of cities across the nation have applied for the funds.

“To my knowledge, there have only been a handful funded in Mississippi,” he said.

Doug Davis, vice president of Natchez Railway, Inc., said the rail line’s immediate need is renovation to its bridges.

“They’re the weak link,” he said.

Currently, Davis said the bridges can withstand 275,000 pounds, but the average need is 286,000.

“This hinders transportation,” he said.

Through receiving the TIGER grant, Davis said the railway would be brought up to par with other rail lines, and it would be able to serve more customers.

Safety is another important aspect of receiving railway updates, he said.

“With recent oil spills on railway lines, most of those are caused by derailments and infrastructure problems,” Davis said. “So it’s important to increase the capabilities of the bridges to withstand that weight.”

The final deadline to apply for the grant is June 5.

Johnston said the city should find out whether or not the grant was approved approximately three to six months after that date.

“I sure hope we get it,” Davis said. “It will only increase the business opportunities in Natchez and Southwest Mississippi.”