Rail Work Could Begin Soon - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Rail Work Could Begin Soon

Mississippi officials hope to learn within the next couple of weeks if the state can afford to purchase and upgrade 68 miles of railroad track between Hattiesburg and Gulfport. John Webb, engineer for the state-owned Port of Gulfport, the agency in charge of the project, said officials expect to have appraisal costs and renovation prices to take to the Legislature in January, and ``we're confident that they will show the purchase and operation to be cost effective to the state.''

The Legislature authorized the Mississippi Development Authority to spend up to $40 million to buy and upgrade the Gulfport-Hattiesburg line so it can handle double-stacked shipping cars. Lawmakers said improving the track could help spark economic development by shortening the rail travel time between Gulfport and Jackson, making the port at Gulfport more competitive with its rivals on the Gulf Coast. Officials have said slowdown of southbound cargo shipments now begins at Jackson, where shippers decide whether to go to ports in Mobile or New Orleans. A rail trip from Jackson takes about five hours to New Orleans and 11 hours to Mobile. Traveling between Jackson and the Port of Gulfport now takes about 30 hours. That would be trimmed to five hours with rail improvements, officials have said.

Port commissioners voted in October to hire a team headed by R.L. Banks & Associates to study the costs associated with buying and upgrading the line from Kansas City Southern and whether it would be economically feasible for the port or a railroad company to operate the line. While the rail service would have statewide benefits, Hattiesburg would profit directly, said George Smith of Wiggins, a Mississippi Department of Transportation consultant. ``Hattiesburg is going to become the hub for rail service,'' Smith said. ``I think a huge amount of development will take place in Hattiesburg.'' Smith said it's too early to discuss specific development plans, but he expects storage buildings will be built. He said trucks are now used to transport fruit and other products that arrive at the Gulfport port to a rail hub in Jackson. ``We will be able to move that operation out and from Hattiesburg send imports nationwide and collect exports for the port,'' Smith said.

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