Hall sees rise in rail traffic in Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

[10/31/03]Rail traffic through Vicksburg could increase again in the near future as production at the Nissan plant near Canton kicks into high gear, Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall said here Thursday.

The plant is open and producing, building toward 5,300 employees producing 400,000 vehicles per year or 1,600 vehicles every workday.

Hall, who spoke to members of the Vicksburg Warren County Community Alliance, said that 90 percent of the cars and trucks made at the Nissan plant will be shipped out by train. Tracks from Canton go south to a hub near Jackson, and then either east through Meridian or west through Vicksburg.

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That will mean more trains will pass through Vicksburg and improvements will be needed along the line that passes under Washington Street and through the Vicksburg Garden District.

“Right now we don’t have the money, but we realize it needs help,” Hall said.

Owners of the bed and breakfast homes in the area along Oak and Pearl streets have complained for years that larger locomotives and more trains have disturbed guests and damaged homes since NAFTA bumped train numbers up to more than a dozen a day. City officials voted three years ago to create an authority to move the tracks that run along Pearl Street, but that authority requires action by the Warren County Board of Supervisors who have declined to take any action.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation has the authority to construct new lines and reroute trains, but Hall, who is seeking re-election as the Central District’s representative on the state Transportation Commission, said there is no money to move the tracks in Vicksburg.

He also said that it would require cooperation from the railroad company which is less likely because the companies would prefer to own the tracks they use.

“I have friends in the railroad business, but a lot of them are run like they were 100 years ago,” Hall said.

The tracks in Vicksburg are owned by Kansas City Southern Railway and follow a route laid out in 1836.

KCS representatives have said that they would support moving the tracks out of downtown Vicksburg, but an alternative route would likely run south of the city through Warren County, and residents there might object, too.

Doniele Kane, KCS director of corporate communications and community affairs, said this week that the company has been studying its main line through Vicksburg and is reviewing some possible track improvements in 2004. Kane said the company had no specific plans.

Hall said that MDOT, which would not require the approval of the county board to move the tracks, could do the work with federal funding through the TEA-21 funds. Warren County had received grant funding through the federal Transportation Enhancement Act for the 21st Century for converting the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle park, but lost that funding after the idea was voted down.

Hall said the TEA-21 fund has no money for those types of projects today and that Congress is not likely to reallocate money to the fund until after the next presidential election in 2004.

He also said that until Congress allocates funding, a $140 million project to six-lane Interstate 20 through Vicksburg will also be on hold. A new MDOT study found that I-20 in Vicksburg is the top priority for improvements in the state, Hall said.

He said plans are to spend about $10 million in the next couple of years to overlay the roadway and other improvements.

Hall, a republican who is seeking his second term, will face Democrat W.C. Alderman and Reform Party candidate Jimmy Loper in Tuesday’s election.