Rail line changes under consideration

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The abandonment of the railroad line between Brookhaven andNatchez is an option under consideration, but it is only one ofseveral being studied, according to railroad officials.

“I can’t deny that’s an option, but there are a number of otheroptions being considered,” said Jack Burke, spokesperson for theCanadian National – Illinois Central Railroad Company (CNIC).

Among the other options, Burke said, is to keep the 63-miletrack or to sell it to a shortline operator.

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The track’s future is in question because of the impendingclosure of the International Paper plant in Natchez, Burkesaid.

“That plant is a major recipient and shipper on that line,” hesaid. “They’re a big customer and with them leaving, like any goodbusiness, we have to take stock.”

Also in question is a line running from Memphis to Water ValleyJunction in the Canton area because of its close ties to theBrookhaven-Natchez line, Burke said. Approximately half of thetraffic on the Memphis-Water Valley Junction is transporting logsfor the Natchez plant.

Burke said he didn’t think the company would make a decisionsoon since the IP plant is not expected to close until June.

“We can take action prior to that, but we will continue to servethat plant until it shuts down,” he said.

Another consideration, he added, is that IP is seeking a buyerfor the plant. If it were to continue operating under another name,it would still require at least some of the traffic IP needed. Thatwould certainly affect the study and the company’s decision onoptions, he said.

Other company lines in the area would probably not be involved,he said. A sideline from Brookhaven to Wanilla and on to Bogalusawould continue to operate normally, and a lead into one of thecounty’s proposed areas for an industrial park would probably notbe changed.

“I don’t see how that would be affected,” Burke said. “Thatsounds like an economic development opportunity.”

Chandler Russ, executive vice president of theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, said he has beenwatching the situation develop.

“I’ve been watching this for our standpoint on the industrialpark for about six months,” he said. “It’s not a major issue for uslocally because it would not interfere with our industrial abilityto move freight. Our interest would be in maintaining CNIC’ssupport of that line at least a mile west of the interstate.”

Regardless of CNIC’s decision, Russ said, the proposedindustrial park has not been jeopardized in any way.

“Our industrial park will be served by rail whether it’s CNIC orsome other entity,” he said.

Russ said he expected that if CNIC decided to abandon the track,it would be sold to a shortline operator or, if necessary, the cityor county could offer to purchase the lead to the industrial park.He admitted, however, that was pure speculation and it would alldepend on CNIC.