$2.4 million for improvements...

CNR to invest in Delta rails An investment of $2.4 million by the Canadian National Railroad for railroad track improvements promises to speed up the transportation of grain and catfish feed in and out of the Mississippi Delta.

The Canadian National-Illinois Center Railroad, the Columbus and Greenville (C&G) Railway, and Delta Western Feed Mill, jointly announced improvements to the railroad between Greenwood, Miss. and Delta Western, Oct. 18, at Delta Western's catfish feed production plant in Indianola, Miss.

The upgrade, which is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2001, will enable the C&G Railway to handle loaded railcars weighing up to 286,000 pounds. In return for Canadian National's investment, Delta Western has made a 10-year commitment to route a substantial portion of the inbound grain being shipped to its catfish feed production plant on the C&G mainline.

Railcars with a maximum gross weight of 286,000 pounds have become standard in the railroad industry, improving efficiencies but posing a problem for smaller railroads such as the C&G, whose infrastructure was designed to handle lighter loads, according to the Canadian National Railroad. Rail cars with a 286,000-pound capacity can carry 400 more bushels of grain than cars operating at the previous weight limit of 263,000 pounds, a more than 10 percent gain in carrying capacity.

In addition to accommodating heavier loads, the railway improvements will allow shippers like Delta Western to use 75- to 100-car "efficiency" trains that cycle between origin and destination points. These "efficiency" trains increase train speed three-fold and cut a train's roundtrip time in half, according to the railway.

"The opportunity to receive efficiency trains on the C&G, in combination with the increase to 286,000-pound capability, will significantly reduce our transportation costs and lower the overall cost of our fish feed by as much as $4 per ton," says Lester Myers, president of Delta Western. Delta Western is the C&G Railway's largest customer and is a main stockholder in the rail operation. Myers also serves as chairman of the board of the Columbus and Greenville Railway.

"Demand for catfish products is spurring vibrant growth in the catfish industry. We want to stay, and we want to help keep the Mississippi Delta in the forefront of that growth. Being able to receive 286,000-pound cars of grain using efficiency trains at our Indianola production plant will make us both more efficient and better able to keep pace with the growing demand for our product," Myers says.

The upgrade to 286,000-pound capacity rail cars includes the replacement of 20,000 crossties; the ballasting, surfacing and lining of track; and installation of an additional 2.5 miles of heavier rail. The project also calls for rebuilding or strengthening 11 bridges and rebuilding 20 rail-highway grade crossings.

"We have a great deal of pride in our past, but its time to look into the future," says Roger Bell, president of the Columbus and Greenville Railway. "Agricultural products account for almost two-thirds of C&G's cargo and that number is growing. Transporting these products in and out of the Delta is at the heart of our business."

Paul Tellier, president and chief executive officer of Canadian National, which operates the Illinois Central Railroad, says, "The financial support we are providing to improve rail service to Delta Western, as well as other C&G shippers, demonstrates our commitment to Mississippi and to the Delta region in particular.

"We consider the Columbus and Greenville one of our key partners in providing competitive, customer-focused rail service to a state that we or our predecessor companies have served for almost 150 years. The better service we can provide shippers, the better for the region's economy overall. As Mississippi grows, we grow," Tellier says.

He adds, "More than 20 percent of our business either originates or terminates on shortlines, such as the C&G Railway. When that much of our business relies upon partnership with shortlines, we know we need to work together. We are very deeply committed to the state of Mississippi and, as the saying goes, we are putting our money where our mouth is."

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