Derailment again sparks criticisms on Oak Street

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 28, 2000

Kansas City Southern Railway workers look at seven cars that derailed Wednesday morning at the entrance to the Washington Street tunnel near Mulberry and Oak streets. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

A derailment Wednesday morning in Vicksburg’s Garden District added fuel to the case of those wanting train tracks rerouted from downtown.

Seven cars of a Kansas City Southern freight train jumped the track at 7:30 at the Oak Street crossing, the scene of many previous rollovers. No one was injured and the box cars were empty.

Mississippi Lumber Co. owner Greg Evans said once again his business at 1900 Mulberry St. and adjacent to the crossing will suffer.

“This will definitely affect my business today because the road will be blocked,” he said.

Vicksburg trainmaster Mike Monsour said the crossing was cleared Wednesday afternoon.

East-west and north-south rail tracks through the city have been in place almost since the city was founded in 1825.

For several years, owners of bed and breakfast inns in the Garden District, south of the Oak Street crossing, have sought relief from trains that are now more frequent, larger and louder.

“They should really move the tracks,” Evans said.

Toward rerouting the railroad south of the city and back north to its river crossing, a special act of the Legislature was passed two years ago. It authorized Warren County and Vicksburg officials to form a railroad authority to select a route and finance the project. The authority would not have the power to tax.

But creating it has been on hold since a city hearing in September. Warren County supervisors expressed concern over losing control over the placement of the tracks once authority members are named.

KCS officials have backed efforts to move the tracks from downtown. In addition to other reasons to create a new route, the curve at the Oak Street crossing and the downhill slope have been cited by rail officials as dangers to modern locomotives.

Although the issue has come before Warren County supervisors on repeated occasions, divided votes have prevented action. The first step, a public hearing, has been voted down every time.

“It is just a matter of time before they turn a car over and it has something toxic on it and it kills a bunch of people,” Evans said.

Train traffic through Vicksburg increased sharply during the economic expansion of the 1990s and especially since NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed Jan. 1, 1994, opened trading doors between nations in North America by removing tariffs on commerce.