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Damaged rail line highlights tour

By Staff
FRACTURED RAILHEAD A piece of fractured railhead in service since 1905 broke loose from a section of track while officials and a railroad consultant were making a visual inspection of Meridian Southern track on Wednesday. The rolled steel piece broke loose on this section of track about one-half mile south of the community of DeSoto in Clarke County. Submitted Photo
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
April 9, 2004
Arthur Miller has staged flashy rail crashes in several feature films, including the blockbuster thriller "The Fugitive."
But even Miller, now managing director of Alabama-based Rail Transportation Management Specialists, couldn't have planned what happened this week.
While Miller guided members of U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor's staff along railroad track in Clarke County explaining the need of federal money for rail line repairs a chunk of mainline railhead broke off and fell to the ground.
Officials from Taylor's office met with economic development officials, business leaders and residents Wednesday in two separate meetings about the railroad's condition.
Miller said both meetings were well attended.
A team of East Mississippi economic development officials have said 2,000 jobs held by Clarke and Wayne county residents depend on the repair and upgrade of the 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 goal: 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.
Miller was recently hired by Wayne County to investigate the line's problems and locate funding for repairs. 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.
Waynesboro plant
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.
In Clarke County, about 650 workers could be affected if the railroad had to close.
Miller said federal and state money won't be the only place the group will look to fund the repairs. He said officials from Meridian Southern Railroad will be sought in the near future to commit funds.
Miller said the rail line between Waynesboro and Meridian was built and installed in 1905. When the 99-year-old piece of railhead broke off Wednesday, Miller said it proved the line was in dire need of attention.
He said he plans to keep the piece of railhead handy as he touts the funding efforts.