Multi-Modal plans still in flux

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 22, 2007

Plans for the Multi-Modal Transportation Facility that have beenunderway for some time might be stalled as Canadian NationalRailroad and the Federal Railroad Administration face off aboutdock heights.

Mayor Bob Massengill said he’s been surprised at how difficultit’s been to come to some kind of agreement between the twoparties, and that it is Brookhaven, as well as cities all over thecountry, that suffers.

“Of any project I’ve dealt with, this has taken more time withless return than anything I’ve done,” he said. “It’s a situationthat’s being faced by towns all over the country that are trying tobuild new facilities. In our part of the country AMTRAK needs a15-inch-high dock and the FRA has said it must be that, noexceptions.”

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Meanwhile, Massengill said, Canadian National has said the dockcan’t be higher than eight inches or the freight trains could hitthem as they pass.

“CN has said some of what they took to the coast after HurricaneKatrina would have hit a 15-inch dock, and that wouldn’t have beengood,” he said. “And when they own the rail, they determine theheight.”

Because of the hangup over the dock heights, the city ofBrookhaven offered to build a lift so that the dock would stay ateight inches and the lift would be able to raise passengers to the15-inch height. He pointed out that currently passengers areboarding the AMTRAK trains off a stool.

“I’ve tried to say this to the people from FRA, because they’reloading lower than that now and people are having to climb a littlestool to get on the train,” Massengill said. “They said thestations that are already standing have been grandfathered in, butnew facilities have to have 15-inch docks. Every town interested inbuilding a new depot has to deal with it.”

It’s a possibility federal grant money earmarked for themulti-modal facility could be used for a sidetrack, Massengillsaid.

“We offered to put in some kind of lift that would raise awheelchair to a 15-inch height and that was not acceptable to them,and it was far less cost than a sidetrack,” he said. “If we put ina sidetrack, freight cars can move up and down the track at easebecause the sidetrack would have a 15-inch dock.”

But even then, that permission must come through the MississippiDepartment of Transportation.

“We’re working with MDOT to see if some funds that have beenallocated can be used for the sidetrack, and they’ll determine thefeasibility of that and if federal funds can be used for thatpurpose,” he said. “If they can’t, I don’t see the project goingany further because I don’t see either CN or the FRA changing theirminds. They both have told us their requirements, with noexceptions.”

Multi-modal plans have been put on hold because if the situationcan’t be resolved, the multi-modal facility may not ever bebuilt.

“If this can’t be resolved and if the dock height can’t becompromised or if the sidetrack can’t be built with grant funds,we’re going to have to move in a totally different direction, andthat project will likely not move forward,” Massengill said. “Butit’s a board decision. There are a lot of decisions that have to bemade.”