Rail Project Could Boost Port Business

Bills to authorize the state of Mississippi to buy and make repairs to a rail line connecting Hattiesburg to the Gulf Coast were approved today (Monday) in the House and Senate.

The planned rail project between Gulfport and Hattiesburg could propel the State Port to a new level of competition.  The bill will allow the Missisisppi Development Authority to purchase and upgrade that nearly 70 mile stretch of railroad. The proposed project could mean millions of extra dollars in port cargo.

Port director Gary LaGrange is excited about planned port improvements. "And you can see the intermodal rail coming from Jackson and Hattiesburg south once we get it approved." The port is already adding new warehouse and container space to handle additional cargo. An upgraded rail line between Gulfport and Hattiesburg would bring even more benefits. "Because of the rail enhancement and the channel enhancement later, in three or four years, we're looking at the cargo improvement to be about six fold," said LaGrange.

The existing rail line is simply not equipped to handle the kind of cargo shipments port leaders envision. "Rail service between here and Hattiesburg has a maximum speed of about 25 miles an hour. In order to attract different and more tenants, particularly container tenants, you're going to have to have the rail improved," said port container manager, Ted Knight. Moving cargo more quickly is one of the biggest benefits of the proposed railroad project.

Right now, a rail trip between Gulfport and Jackson takes some 36 hours. With the planned improvements that same trip would take just four to five hours. Harrison County Development Director, Michael Olivier, says the impact on economic development should be huge. "All the people should be excited about it because we're talking about taking some of this traffic off the highways that we have today, putting them, double stacking them on rail and going north."

The rail project would cost 40 million dollars. It will cost about 20 million dollars to buy the railroad from Kansas City Southern, and another 20 million to upgrade the tracks.