Officials say jobs depend on rail repairs
INSPECTING THE RAILS Arthur Miller, managing director of Alabama-based Rail Transportation Management Specialists, inspects railroad tracks in Lauderdale County on Friday just south of Atlas Roofing Corp. Miller was recently hired by Wayne County to investigate the Meridian Southern Railway line that links Waynesboro and Meridian. He also is seeking funding for improvements.Photo by Kyle Carter / The Meridian Star.
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
March 28, 2004
A team of East Mississippi economic development officials say 2,000 jobs held by Clarke and Wayne county residents depend on the repair and upgrade of a 55-mile stretch of railroad track.
Officials with the East Mississippi Business Development Corp., as well as economic development districts and boards of supervisors in Clarke and Wayne counties, are hard at work on the project.
Their task: Obtain federal funding to repair the Meridian Southern Railway line that links Waynesboro and Meridian where it then connects with Kansas City Southern Railroad and other carriers.
Last week, a group of officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor's office met with economic development leaders and rode the line.
Arthur Miller, managing director of Alabama-based Rail Transportation Management Specialists, was recently hired by Wayne County to investigate the line's problems and locate funding.
Miller said the rail line has been neglected for more than 30 years. Couple that with last spring's round of flash floods in East Mississippi, he said, and some people fear the line could become impassable.
The rail line crosses the Chickasawhay River twice a river that was forced over its banks during last year's floods. The rail line also has major structures over several other large creeks.
Wayne County began efforts last year to find money to fund the repairs.
Meridian Southern has owned the line since 2000 and has spent about $400,000 on repairs. But railroad maintenance engineers have estimated it will cost nearly $8.5 million to fund repairs for the entire line money the company doesn't have.
The rail line once operated as a through-route connecting Chicago, St. Louis and Mobile. It now operates north of Waynesboro and makes stops in Quitman on its way to Meridian.
The biggest plant that could suffer from the condition of the railroad is Waynesboro's Marshall-Durbin grain storage and blending plant, a chicken hatchery business dependent on rail.
The plant is responsible for about 1,200 high-wage jobs in Mississippi and Alabama.
Tony Fleming, Clarke County's District 5 supervisor, said about 650 workers who live in Clarke County could be affected if the railroad had to close.
Fleming said recent flood damage has caused Clarke County officials to join Wayne County and seek financial help. He said Clarke County's concerns are more than just protecting its jobs.
Others back effort
In Meridian, the condition of the other rail lines and carriers that serve the city remains good and possible problems to the south don't directly affect any existing industries.
But local economic development officials said it's still important to join the effort to help Meridian Southern.
While most of the groups' goals include bridge repairs and upgrades, Miller said overall improvements are needed simply to stay competitive.