Railroads Confront Challenges

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Area leaders discussed the problem at a work session of the Lauderdale County supervisors Thursday.

Fred Andrews, president of the board of supervisors for Wayne County, said the railroad needs help.

"As you know, we've been working on this railroad trying to get it from here to Waynesboro, upgrade it a little bit," said Andrews. "The speed limit got down to about 5 miles per hour, I think. We're having derailments every day just about."

Andrews brought along consultant, Dr. Arthur Miller, who told the board at least four major employers, including Atlas Roofing in Meridian, depend on that railroad to transport needed materials. He said their employees look to Meridian as the area's retail center and it is here they spend their dollars.

Miller offered a clarification to Newscenter 11 after this story was originally broadcast, that the speed limit was slowed to 5 miles per hour
only in certain sections. On the subject of derailments, Miller said the problems the rail line was experiencing had been addressed within the past several months.

"Even though the jobs may appear to be south and southeast and southwest of us, the rail impact here, of railroad closure, the sales tax impact would be substantial," Miller said.

The Meridian & Southern Railway is only 55 miles long but it crosses 71 bridges. All currently meet federal standards, but there is fear that heavy rains and flooding could take some of them out.

Officials estimate the total cost of the project will be between $12 million and $14 million, with a portion coming through grants.

"We've asked Lauderdale County for some financial help to the tune of approximately $15,000 and their political and moral support," said Miller. "You'd be surprised. We'd like the supervisors to go to Washington with us and talk to our elected representatives."

An inadvertent typographical error initially listed the requested amount at $125,000 instead of $15,000. Newscenter 11 regrets the mistake.

The railroad owners say they are prepared to commit $580,000. The rest would have to come from the federal, state and county governments.

Chief executive officer Eric Lee said Friday:

"We're as stable as we have been at any time in the past and business is growing with an upturn in the economy. We're hopeful that trend will continue in the future. Railroads commonly seek funding from government sources for infrastructure projects. Frequently, short line railroads such as Meridian Southern Railway acquire their railroad lines after decades of deferred maintenance by prior owners. This often requires the short line to seek the assistance of its community to assure the long term future of the railroad. The Meridian Southern Railway is currently conducting its own rehabilitation program in addition to amounts sought from government."