March 27, 2009
JACKSON -- The House and Senate gave final approval Thursday to a state railroad-funding bill but without the $14 million originally earmarked to help reopen the old Columbus and Greenville rail line.
The House wanted the money for renovating a 92-mile stretch of the C&G railway that''s been closed since 2001, but the Senate insisted the bill shouldn''t specify funds for one railroad. The compromise bill adopted for the governor to sign puts money into the Mississippi Railroad Revitalization Fund. State officials will decide how to spend it.
House Bill 1713 authorizes about $12 million for Mississippi freight railroad operators to seek. However, it probably won''t be the state seed money envisioned to combine with federal dollars to rebuild the C&G tracks from West Point to Greenwood, said Rep. Bobby Howell, R-Kilmichael, one of the bill''s negotiators.
Backers of rebuilding the old C&G railroad say it''ll provide a job-producing economic stimulus and a much-needed transportation artery to help industries in north central Mississippi from Lowndes County to the Mississippi River.
The North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority -- which is planning the renovation of the C&G line -- will continue efforts to get federal money and other funds, Howell said. It''s been estimated about $70 million is needed.
The C&G tracks from West Point to Greenwood have been out of commission since flooding washed out a Carroll County bridge eight years ago. Two other bridges have also since collapsed from high water.
Repairs would enable the C&G line to resume uninterrupted from Lowndes County through the state''s north-central corridor to Greenville on the Mississippi River.
It would also give the Severstal steel mill in Lowndes County a direct east-west shipping link to the Mississippi River. The plant currently is served by a meandering rail route that goes south to Vicksburg.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said rebuilding the C&G line is essential, and he expressed hope it''ll eventually be reopened from Columbus to Greenville.
"I''ve never seen a project as worthy as this," McCoy said. "We won''t give up on this. ... It will be done sooner or later -- hopefully sooner."
However, the Senate agreed with one of C&G''s competitors that the state shouldn''t be playing favorites by dedicating money for one rail 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 - 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 earlier this month.
Mississippi has 26 short-line railroads -- many of which are struggling financially, said Steven Edwards, director of intermodal planning at the state Department of Transportation.