March 18, 2009
JACKSON -- The Senate Tuesday approved a bill to provide $14 million to a state fund for revitalizing railroads, but it doesn''t specify the money be given to Columbus and Greenville Railway as the House of Representatives wants.
The House initiated the bill last month to earmark the money for renovating a 92-mile stretch of the C&G line that''s been closed since 2001 -- denying the Golden Triangle and the state''s north-central corridor a direct rail link to the Mississippi River.
However, the Senate agreed with one of C&G''s competing railroads that the state shouldn''t be playing favorites by dedicating money for one railway.
"That''s totally unfair, in my opinion," said Senate Highways and Transportation Chairman Tom King, R-Petal. "I feel it''s fair to let other rail lines (seek the money)."
Rather than dedicating the money to North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority -- which is leading the effort to renovate the C&G line -- the Senate voted to put the money in the state Railroad Revitalization Fund. The Mississippi Transportation Commission would decide how the money is used.
The bill returns to the House of Representatives to agree with the Senate''s version or send the bill to a committee of negotiators to form a compromise.
The House passed the bill with hopes state money could be combined with federal dollars to fulfill the $70 million needed to rebuild the C&G tracks from West Point to Greenwood. The tracks have been closed since 2001, when flooding washed out a Carroll County bridge. Two other bridges since collapsed from high water. Repairs would enable the C&G line to continue uninterrupted to Greenville on the Mississippi River.
However, a competing railroad persuaded the Senate not to reserve money just for the C&G line. Kansas City Southern Railway said it and others should be allowed to compete for state funds to improve their rails.
KCS -- which serves the Severstal steel mill in Lowndes County -- could use about $7 million to rehabilitate tracks from Artesia to the plant, according to KCS representatives who met with the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee last week.
What''s being allocated to replenish the state Railroad Revitalization Fund is not enough, King said.
"In today''s world, $14 million is not going to go very far," he added.
Mississippi has 26 short-line railroads, many of which are financially troubled and "hanging by a thread," said Steven Edwards, director of intermodal planning at the state Department of Transportation.
The Senate voted 49-3 for House Bill 1713. All area senators voted for the bill.