Erosion threatens rail, repairs avoid Yokohama shutdown

This picture taken last week shows water in a drainage area where part of the rail bed has washed away.
Staff Writer

Those who think an overflowing ditch is just a small problem, consider a flooded drainage way that could have caused a train derailment or shut down a major manufacturing plant.

That was the option Clay County leaders faced as they scrambled this week to shore up a 200-foot section of railroad bed.

The work has to be completed immediately so Kansas City Southern can deliver a key raw material to Yokohama Tire on March 8.

Crews from Hattiesburg-based Continental Rails were rushing Monday to shore up a stretch of rail bed that was threatened by erosion. Among other things, crews planned to put more heavy rock in place and improve drainage to shore up the rail bed.

The rep[airs must be made and inspected by Thursday's delivery, according to the Clay County Economic Development District, which is responsible for this stretch of rail entering the Yokohama campus.

The CCEDD signed a $10,593 contract, plus additional cost for the rock, to have the repairs done. Longer-term solutions and additional repairs could come later, according to CCEDD Board President Scott Ross.

"Our choices basically were to either shut down production at Yokohama or fix the rail bed. That was an easy choice," Ross said of the issue, which began in late February when heavy rains started causing concerns along the segment of rail line.

The area is so muddy now that Clay County Engineer Bob Calvert told the board he didn't think equipment could reach the area via land without sinking. Repair crews and equipment came in by rial Monday.

If Yokohama had gone to truck delivery, it would have taken 30 to 60 days, effectively shutting down the plant, according to e-mail exchanges filed with the CCEDD.

Before the tire giant opened the first phase of its operation in late 2015, the Mississippi Development Authority spent $4.4 million building the section of rail as part of the incentives to bring Yokohama to the 1,000-plus-acre Prairie Belt Powersite north of West Point. The rail is bordered mostly by farm land and the area where the rail line is threatened is bordered by land owned by the CCEDD and leased for crops.

The heavy rains have filed drainage ways with silt, causing water to wash at the rail bed. In addition to more drainage changes, one long-term solution could be turning the land along the rails into grazing land rather than cultivation, which would reduce erosion.

"This got us into a thoughtful mode about the ways we can prevent this from happening in the future. We don't want to be faced with and we certainly don't want Yokohama or the railroad to be faced with this kind of issue again," Ross explained.