- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - Reconnecting Meridian and points south to the Gulf Coast through rail freight service is the goal of the Rail Authority of East Mississippi, a group dedicated to getting more than 50 miles of track built between Waynesboro and Lucedale.

Meridian Southern Rail is a short-line that runs to Waynesboro from Meridian but the tracks south of Waynesboro to the coast were abandoned years ago, according to Larry Gandy, executive director of RAEM.

Gandy told the Lauderdale Board of Supervisors recently that the next step in getting rail service re-established is an environmental impact study and another economic impact study. Gandy said the Mississippi Legislature set aside $1 million in 2013 for the studies.

RAEM was formed in 2010 to find ways to potentially tie the existing Meridian Southern short-line system from Meridian to Waynesboro southward to the Canadian National and Mississippi Export lines near Lucedale and possibly onward to the CSX lines at Pascagoula.

The authority was organized with some support from Lauderdale, George, Green, Clarke, Jackson and Wayne counties. At that time, each county contributed $65,000.

With that and grant money, Gandy said RAEM put together a study that shows the economic impact of reopening the line. Gandy said re-establishing the line will be profitable for the region, especially with the growth of the wood pellet industry.

Gandy said RAEM should be able to get the environmental and economic studies completed within the next 18 months. They will have to prepare three proposed routes to present to the Federal Railroad Administration, Gandy said, and they must also have the studies ready for the FRA before they can ask them for funding.

A proposed wood pellet facility in George County, Gandy said, would signal a need for rail service to Pascagoula, which he said has already invested in constructing receiving and storage facilities.

“We’ve got the wood basket of the southeast right where we are now that there will be a lot of interest in,” Gandy said.

Gil Carmichael of Meridian, a former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said with the increased use of inter-modal containers, local leaders need to support the project. Inter-modal containers are used on ships, on trains, and on transport trucks, moving easily from one method of transport to another without having to be emptied.

“The whole transportation world right now is going inter-modal - ship to train to truck,” Carmichael said. “Every time a box goes through Meridian, you all get some money. We probably are about as lucky as we could be as far as the railroad issue is concerned.”

Gandy believes re-establishing the line is essential to the region’s economic growth.

“It would open up the whole east side of Mississippi to a port,” Gandy said. “They can already get to the port, but this would be a direct line to the port and along that line, we expect a lot of industry could be located, particularly in the wood pellet industry.”

Josh Todd, president of the Lauderdale Board of Supervisors, said the board will have to consider whether it will help fund RAEM.

“It’s something we are definitely going to look at but no promises can be made until we get into the budget and know what we have to work with,” Todd said. “We would love to support it. It would be a great venture. We have to look and see what the future holds.”

___

Information from: The Meridian Star, http://www.meridianstar.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide