By Tommy Reynolds
For those of us who are interested in the continued economic health of our region, the news that the owners of the Grenada Railway are going forward with their plan to permanently dismantle the stretch of rail south of Grenada is alarming, to say the least.
Currently, its request for abandonment is before the Surface Transportation Board. At a hearing held by that board in November, I registered my opposition to any actions which would result in abandonment, closure or repurposing of any part of the Grenada Railway.
I said then, and I continue to believe, that it would be a tremendous tragedy to lose this great resource which has provided and will continue to provide economic stability to our rural areas.
Rail is a fundamental component to any economic development plan. It is a vital artery of commerce. The closure of an accessible rail line will cripple any hope for future economic development of the area.
Our local small businesses have relied on being able to move forest products, scrap metal, grain and other light freight along this line for over a century. Citizens up and down the rail, which stretches 187 miles from Canton to Southaven, have depended upon the reliable service of these freight trains for generations.
Moving materials are much more affordable transactions when expenses are not directly tied to the cost of gasoline, which happens when goods are transported on our highways. If our local businesses are forced to absorb the higher cost of transporting goods, we can count on jobs to be lost and our city centers to decline.
The southern 77 miles which stretch below Grenada has not been in operation since 2011, when Grenada Railway imposed an embargo on the line, which is currently under review by the STB due to concerns about its legality.
The railway owners claim there was not enough demand for that stretch of rail and so they quit utilizing it. However, products are shipped in and out of Grenada several times a day. One has to wonder which came first here, the rails closed and demand dried up, or was it vice versa?
May I suggest that a competent marketing program may help enhance use of the 77 miles currently under discussion. I feel certain that the folks at the local level will be happy to do their part to encourage revitalization of the rails through their communities.
Keep in mind that this is the self same stretch of rail that carried the Panama Limited and the City of New Orleans at a very fast clip during its heyday. We have manufacturers on the abandoned line who are having to ship their products to Memphis in order to get them to the Mexico border.
Common sense would indicate that this abandonment has created a financial hardship on that company. Some believe that the closure of the Pickens Co-op was brought about by the rail embargo. We simply cannot afford to let this effort go unopposed.
We have recently learned that another company has expressed interest in taking over the abandoned railway in a feeder rail request. While I do not know the inside scoop on this possibility, I am in favor of whatever it takes to keep this rail running from Canton to Southaven. If that means new owners, then they should be welcomed.
Please feel free to contact me at my residence at 1720 N. Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965, by phone at (662) 473-2571, by email at email@example.com or at my office at P.O. Drawer 280, Charleston, MS 38921 and by phone at (662) 647-3203.
I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.