Morehouse Economic Development Corp. is working on plans to save a six-mile stretch of railroad that could be important to the economic future of Morehouse Parish. In the wake of International Paper’s closure of its local mill in 2008, Union Pacific gave public notice last summer of its plans to abandon, within three years, a rail branch connecting downtown Bastrop to Collinston.
While the parish will still have the main UP line coming down through Bonita, the shorter “Bastrop Industrial Lead” line is significant for its potential to serve a future occupant of the IP site.
“We have been discussing ways to save this line,” said MEDC CEO Kay King. “The primary reason is to preserve dual service to the mill site.”
King said she has been contacted by industries interested in occupying the former mill site when demolition is complete, and further, “We do get requests [from prospective industries] for dual rail service.”
The Bastrop-Morehouse Recovery Plan, funded by the state and developed by Taimerica Management Co. following the mill closure, highlighted Bastrop’s dual rail lines as valuable economic assets. In addition to UP, Bastrop is served by the AL&M line, with daily switching in Monroe to the UP and Kansas City Southern (KCS) national lines.
The rail line also has value as it passes by Bastrop’s Coulter Industrial Park, which city officials have been looking to expand using federal funds awarded in 2010 for a new industrial park.
King said “Plan A” is to save the approximately six-mile rail branch through discussions with a company that would keep the short line operating with direct access to the UP main line, provided this company can generate enough business for the line. Local businesses that once used the line have “made other provisions” since IP’s closure.
Preserving the line is important, not only for the viability of the IP site, but also for the future development of agriculture, timber and – as suggested by Taimerica’s research —the biofuel industry in Morehouse Parish.
“I seem to be getting a lot more rail access requests,” from prospective industries, she said, which may be due in part to rising fuel costs. “There are also several potential industrial park sites along the line.”
If the line cannot be saved and repaired by the contract provider, King said there are other possibilities, such as working to preserve a portion of the line between the mill site and industrial park by tying it into the AL&M line in Bastrop. The tracks themselves might have salvage value, and the right of way itself could have other uses if the line was removed altogether.