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Rail tariffs draw opposition

BUDE — Officials with American Railcar Industries and Franklin County are asking help to combat a new train car tariff imposed by the operator of the Brookhaven-to-Natchez line.

The tariff is being imposed by Natchez Railway LLC, based in Salt Lake City. It acquired the 66-mile Brookhaven-to-Natchez route in 2009.

ARI, a railroad car repair and refurbishing company in Bude, is being charged a switching fee of $700 for each car that enters and exits its facility.

County Board of Supervisors president George Collins tells the Brookhaven Daily Leader that he fears the tariff will make business unprofitable and force ARI to relocate.

“American Railcar is going to leave Franklin County. That’s just too much money to spend,” Collins said. “We’re trying to get some help with it, talking to some of our leaders so they can help us keep them from moving. We’re going to go all the way up, as far as we can, to Washington, (D.C.)”

Local Chamber of Commerce president Brad Jones said local officials have appealed to the federal Surface Transportation Board, a regulatory board that oversees railroad rate and service disputes.

“We want to keep ARI open, and we’re going to work with them in any way we can to ensure that plant stays open,” Jones said.

ARI has operated in Bude for more than 30 years and employs about 100 people. The company uses the Natchez Railway to store cars awaiting repair and move them in and out of its facility.

ARI officials refused to comment on the situation.

Natchez Railway vice president Michael Van Wagenen said the $700 tariff was necessary to keep the company profitable. He said right now there are few customers on the line and revenues are less than expenditures.

The railroad’s affiliation with Utah-based A&K Railroad Materials Inc., a railroad salvage company, caused major concern for some Mississippi lawmakers when it bought the tracks last year. Officials are worried the company’s $700 tariff is a step toward closing and scrapping the railroad.

“We haven’t had any discussions of that nature at this point,” Van Wagenen said.

State Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, who had urged the Surface Transportation Board to deny the sale of the line, said the tariff is evidence that Natchez Railway plans to scrap the tracks next year after a two-year agreement it made to maintain the line expires.

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