By GALEN HOLLEY
Economic developers and legislators throughout northern Mississippi took a step forward this week toward reopening and perhaps saving a stretch of railroad that runs from Southaven to Canton.
The Mississippi House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bond bill Monday, which was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday, that would grant $30 million to a coalition of seven counties, including Grenada, known as the North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority. The NCMRRA plans to purchase the rail line and lease it back to a currently undisclosed experienced rail company to serve as its operator.
Proponents said the rail is crucial for supporting industry, and that thousands of jobs hang in the balance.
The bill bond passed 119-3 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.
“This journey began a long time ago, and we’re pleased that we had a bipartisan group, as well as the voice of local advocates, to help it come to fruition,” said District 24 Democratic House Representative Kevin Horan, one of several legislators who helped promote the bill.
The 187-mile stretch of rail is owned by Grenada Railway, which is a subsidiary of Utah-based V&S Railway.
The company last year filed for the second time to abandon the rail and sell it for scrap. The 86-mile stretch from Grenada to Canton has been without service since the first abandonment filing in 2011.
The Surface Transportation Board is currently considering whether or not that abandonment was legal.
“It would have been criminal to allow this rail to be abandoned,” said District 14 State Senator Lydia Chassaniol. “This was a no-brainer. It was a win-win for the state and for economic interests up and down the line.”
Grenada Railway has been insistent on its position to abandoned the rail line, Horan said, and negotiations haven’t always been easy.
Grenada Area Economic Development District Executive Director Pablo Diaz agreed.
“Industry, legislators and civic leaders throughout the seven-county area have been the real work horses in accomplishing this important milestone,” said Diaz. “The NCMRRA has been working with all these leaders for four years on this issue, and we are now closer than ever to being able to secure long term rail service in the region. I can’t tell you how appreciative we are to the House and Senate members that understood the importance of this line and voted in favor of the bill” said Diaz.
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