By John Howell
The announcement that CN Railroad will sell its Grenada line to Grenada Railway, LLC has triggered concern in the towns served that rail service could end.
CN Senior Vice President Jim Vena informed Panola County Representative Warner McBride about the pending sale by letter last Tuesday. McBride is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. CN’s 175 mile Grenada line extends from Canton to the Tennessee state line and serves Vaiden, Winona, Grenada, Batesville, Sardis, Senatobia and Hernando. The line extends through the western portion of Yalobusha,
The Grenada line sale also includes the 11-mile Water Valley Branch Line, not used since 2008 due to track and bridge conditions, which connects to the Weyerhauser wood facility at Bruce.
The letter also informs about the sale of CN’s 66-mile Natchez Branch Line from Brookhaven to the Weyerhauser mill in Natchez. That line will be sold to Natchez Railway, LLC.
“At present, traffic volume on these lines are very low,” Vena’s letter states. The Grenada line produced an average of 21 carloads per day during the five-day week in 2008, he said.
CN took initial steps to abandon the line in 2005 but “we discontinued that process following Hurricane Katrina,” Vena stated.
CN selected Grenada Railway, LLC and Natchez Railway, LLC after soliciting bids. Vena’s letter describes both as “non-carrier” affiliates of V & S Railway and A & K Railway Materials. V & S has been a successful short-line operator in Colorado and Kansas since 2000 and A & K is a supplier of new and used track material and offers salvage services,” the letter continues.
The two buyers would be required to “make reasonable efforts to sustain and increase traffic” on the lines as a sale condition, Vena’s letter continues, and not abandon the track for at least two years from the sale date. The Grenada line “would have required track and bridge rehabilitation in the near future for continued CN operations, according to the company official’s letter to McBride.
The line will continue to connect to CN rails at each end to allow traffic interchange. “CN will continue to operate nearly 600 route-miles in the state including our Yazoo line that runs parallel to the Grenada line, which serves as CN’s main line through Mississippi,…” according to the letter. About a dozen affected CN employees will be shifted to CN’s remaining operations.
The rail purchasers have filed for approval with the state’s Surface Transportation Board. “Under this process, all interested parties are afforded an opportunity to comment…” Vena states.
Local Officials Scramble In Reaction To Railroad Sale
Local officials are scrambling after learning of the sale of 252 miles of railroad in Mississippi that includes about 22 miles of track in Yalobusha County.
Representative Tommy Reynolds contacted the Herald Tuesday, May 12, after he learned of the private transaction between the Canadian National Railroad and two short lines, Grenada Railway LLC and Natchez Railway LLC.
Officials expressed concern because the two short lines are both non-carrier affiliates of V&S Railway and A&K Railroad Materials, headquartered in Salt Lake City. V&S Railway has purchased and later abandoned railroads for salvage by A&K Railroad Materials.
Reynolds said that the railroad is a tremendous resource. “It will be a tragedy for it to be lost.”
“I think we need to do everything humanly possible to keep this line open,” Reynolds told the Herald. “This is another burden we don’t need is to be without rail in Yalobusha County.”
Bob Tyler, Director of the Yalobusha Economic Development District, said that the sale could result in the salvaging of those sections of the railroad. “We want those rails to stay down.”
Reynolds conferred by phone this past Tuesday with officials including: Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor; Brad Morris, Chief of Staff for Rep. Travis Childers; Richard Babb from Childers Tupelo office; and Jimmy Heidel, who worked in economic development during the Kirk Fordice administration and was involved with railroad projects.
A meeting is being planned for early next week with those who have an interest in keeping the railroad. “We need to get state and federal government folks from up and down this line involved,” Reynolds added.