Study Could Expand Hancock County's Rail Line

A $3.5 million feasibility study will determine if Hancock County's port should take its rail line to the next level. The Port Bienville Short Line Rail services more than a dozen industries located at the port.  Officials say the study will look at whether the line should be extended north to tie in with Norfolk Southern Railroad.

Most hurricane repairs to the Port Bienville Short Line Rail Road went relatively quickly. However, officials say getting trains moving in and out of the port took much longer.

Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission executive director Jack Zink said, "Within two months, the Port Bienville Short Line Railroad here within Hancock County was operational. However, because of the impact Katrina had on CSX and their entire infrastructure, we were unable to move products in and out by rail until CSX was up and operational."

A study, paid for with state and federal grants, will determine if Port Bienville should extend its rails 20 miles north to Pearl River County and tie into the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Port and Harbor director Jack Zink says that would open an important north south corridor.

"It creates the ability in the eventuality of an approaching storm to be able to move rail cars north to higher ground farther up in the north part of the county," said Zink. "Following the storm for relief materials, services, and equipment, you could bring them in."

"And if the rail along the coast was damaged, you would have the ability to bring in equipment and those materials."

Zink says the line would give companies an alternative to CSX and encourage competition and attract more business to the port.

"There's a lot of industries further up north of the state of Mississippi and this would allow them a way to move goods, services, products south, which is good for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Executive Director Jack Zink says the feasibility study will look at the cost effectiveness as well as the environmental impact of extending the rail northward.