GRENADA, Miss. — A $7.5 million federal grant will help restore rail service through northern Mississippi, aided by a $4.3 million state loan and $3.2 million in private money.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it’s awarding the grant to rehabilitate 90 miles (145 kilometers) of what was once the Illinois Central mainline between Grenada and Canton.
That stretch, including the Yazoo County spot where legendary engineer Casey Jones died in a 1900 crash, hasn’t seen regular service since 2011.
The money will also be used to repair a bridge over the Coldwater River in Tate County which is currently in service.
The entire 180-mile (290-kilometer) Grenada Railroad from Southaven to Canton is owned by the North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority, which used state bond money to buy it from a Utah operator who wanted to pull up rails from Grenada to Canton and sell them for scrap.
Chicago-based rail operator Iowa Pacific now runs the line under a 15-year lease-purchase agreement. Mississippi Department of Transportation spokeswoman Morgan Miller said the $4.3 million loan agreement with Iowa Pacific has already been signed. The railroad will kick in the remaining $3.2 million
Steve Miller of the North Central Planning and Development District said restoring service south of Grenada would mean that shipments from the Resolute Forest Products paper mill in Grenada bound for export could now travel directly south instead of detouring through Memphis, Tennessee. There’s also a chance to serve other customers, he said.
Miller said he wasn’t sure when work would begin or be completed.
Water Valley Mayor Larry Hart, the acting president of the authority, said the rehabilitated line may not be perfect, but it will allow trains to move over it at speeds faster than 10 mph.
“Our goal was to reopen the line for rail service,” he said.
The grant will also pay to reactivate lights, bells or crossbars at 18 crossings and install new ties. The federal money is a competitive grant awarded from a program for small transportation projects under the 2015 federal transportation spending law.