$6.2 million allocated to upgrade railroad
Up to $6.2 million in federal funding has been tapped for significant improvements along roughly 100 miles of rail between Grenada and Canton.
The monies will largely provide infrastructure and equipment improvements for the Grenada Railroad,LLC by upgrading approximately 25 railroad bridges and 100 miles of ties and rail.
Madison County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Joey Deason said any improvements the line made could only benefit Canton and Madison County at-large.
He said that major railroad lines running through Madison County are a tremendous asset, noting the 100-acre site outside Flora along the Canadian National Railroad.
He said that he considered Grenada to be “another tool in the toolbox” and was interested in promoting another site for development along their line.
“I had not heard specifically of this latest grant but this is very good news for Grenada,” Deason said. “We have had multiple meetings with them about their future plans. This is great news for our community.”
Other projects along this line included in the up to $6,221,020 allotted will go towards building a locomotive pit and purchasing tamper, regulator and tie inserter equipment.
Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ronald L. Batory said that this project will repair existing track and infrastructure, allow for 286,000-pound rail car operations, and more efficient ongoing maintenance.
“We remain committed to helping address pressing transportation capital needs, particularly in rural areas,” Batory said. “I am pleased that so many high-quality applications were submitted for worthwhile investments by the FRA.”
The line north of Canton was part of Illinois Central Railroad’s Grenada District and was mostly used by the Chicago-New Orleans passenger trains, the City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited, running in the postwar period at speeds up to 100 miles per hour on some stretches.
The line has many hills and curves, making it unsuitable for long freight trains, which mainly used Illinois Central’s Yazoo District several miles to the west, through the flat Mississippi Delta. The line through Canton is notable as the line on which Casey Jones, the famed railroader, was killed.
On September 10, 1995, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans operated over the Grenada District for the last time. A few years later in 1998, Canadian National bought the Illinois Central Railroad and diverted more traffic over to the Yazoo District through the Delta. The CN line south of Canton serves the Nissan automobile manufacturing plant into Jackson.
The new funding marks one of 50 projects in 29 states selected by The U.S. Department of Transportation’s FRA for grant funding under the Fiscal Year 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program. The money comes from a pool of $320.6 million in grant money set aside for the CRISI program authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said the projects selected include a wide variety of railroad investments that improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of freight and intercity passenger service.
“This $320.6 million federal investment will upgrade U.S. rail infrastructure and enhance rail safety in communities across America,” Chao said.
Rural projects, such as the one approved for the Grenada Railroad, have a minimum 25 percent funding requirement under the CRISI Program and in the end, received over 60 percent of the funds. The rails between Grenada and Canton are located in a designated “Opportunity Zone”, created to revitalize economically distressed communities using private investments. Of the 50 projects that were awarded grants, 32 are located in such zones.
Chao says that since 2017, this Administration has awarded over $1.2 billion through the CRISI program to improve rail infrastructure.
The Grenada Railroad, LLC. serves North Central Mississippi and operates 180 miles of track along the I-55 corridor between Jackson and Memphis. The railroad operates a fleet of eight Electro-Motive locomotives as well as a fleet of 147 boxcars and 175 center-beam flat cars. The State of Mississippi leased the line to RailUSA in August 2018. RailUSA owns and operates two short line or regional railroads. Other than the Grenada Railroad they operate the Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad, which runs between Baldwin and Pensacola in Florida.
As recently as 2011, the line was targeted for abandonment by its previous owners. According to the Rail USA website, railusa.net. RailUSA claims citing a study commission by the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Department of Transportation that the line supports 11,174 jobs, $1.3 billion in gross product, and $1 billion in personal income.
The above improvements are part of a rehabilitation project along the entire line centered on the goal of upgrading the entire track to Class 3 operating standards and the industry-standard 286,000 pounds at speeds of 40 miles an hour for bridges, a $15.05 million project they originally hoped to complete in mid-2019. Previously, the project has been supported with a $7.54 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Grant, a $4 million loan from the state of Mississippi and with RailUSA investing the required matching funds.
RailUSA claims that about 2,500 acres of certified industrial sites and over 4,000 additional acres of developable property all located close to the interstate highway system are available along the railroad.