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New track expected to cut derailments

Train enthusiast Robert Ferguson snaps a few pictures as Kansas City Southern workers join the last pieces of track in the new curve by the old Mississippi Lumber Co. Monday. Ferguson, who arrived at the construction site at 2 p.m. Monday and who has been following the progress of the work since July, said he would stay at the new turn until a train came through the tunnel under Washington Street. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[11/16/2004] A treacherous curve is gone and, starting today, frequent downtown derailments should become part of Vicksburg’s past.

Kansas City Railway has begun using new rails at Oak and Mulberry streets, where uncounted literally trains have left the tracks.

Doniele Kane, spokesman for KCS, said the first train switched to the new pathway crept through at 8 p.m. Monday.

A veteran of 44 years in the cabs of locomotives, R.G. Hollowell of Vicksburg, said the project is a big improvement.

“It was a bugger,” he said of the old track that was installed in 1898. It made a sharp turn from a north-south track that ran along Pearl Street to an east-west one.

Hollowell said not only were the cars much smaller when the original track was laid, but the trains were shorter, too.

Even moving dead slow, trains would leave the tracks and many tipped over almost routinely in recent years. Although chemical and other cars were often involved, there were no injuries or significant leaks reported. Still, train traffic through the city was held up until cars could be returned to the tracks.

The railroad company bought the adjacent Mississippi Lumber Co., property in late 2003 so it could use the 2.2-acre site to change the angle of the curve.

Hollowell, who said he operated a train through the curve and Washington Street tunnel many times, said one of the main causes of cars jumping the tracks was too much power.

“You would just pull them off,” he said, explaining how derailments near the tunnel under Washington Street probably happened when an engineer applied too much power coming up the grade from Pearl Street.

“You know, when you pull a string, it straightens out,” Hollowell said.

The curve also had a speed limit, he said, which could cause another problem. If the train was long and heavily laden, an engineer trying to abide by the limit might need an assist from engines pushing from the rear.

“It’s going to be much better,” Hollowell said, noting the new track probably has 10 to 15 degrees less of a turn. “It’s going to be a whole lot better.”

Riverside Construction Co., of Vicksburg began work on the site in early July 2003 after it demolished the old Mississippi Lumber Co. buildings. It then began moving dirt to the site.

Using 18-wheeled dump trucks, Riverside moved 25,000 to 30,000 cubic yards of dirt from behind Atwood Chevrolet on North Frontage Road to the Oak-Mulberry site. Once a raised track bed was constructed, the company then laid the limestone base for the tracks.

Another contractor installed the tracks.