Column by Sen. Trent Lott Filed 4/13/06 GCN - Photos: GCN
Transportation is the lifeblood of our economy, and making it safer should be a priority. Despite deaths and injuries along our transportation byways, some in Washington contend that safer transportation just costs too much money – often reducing this issue to a case of dollars over what makes sense. I’m an unabashed advocate of safer roads, bridges and, yes, railroads – most recently lending my support to a $700 million plan to move the Mississippi Coast’s CSX railroad line north to higher ground, away from storm surges and, more importantly, people.
Along the coast, we too often see motorists and pedestrians killed on rails which have run parallel to our shores for more than a century. Today the rails intersect the heart of each growing coastal community, causing people, trains and cars to frequently collide at dangerous crossroads. Always mindful that my father was killed on a narrow, two-lane road south of Laurel, I’ve supported surface transportation safety initiatives impacting our highways and rails by funding more four-lane highways for our state and supporting rail relocation plans.
With long-term safety as our primary goal, and to protect Mississippi’s coast tracks from another crippling storm, Senator Cochran and I included funds to move the CSX tracks in a Hurricane Katrina legislative relief package which the full Senate will soon consider. In the aftermath of arguably the worst natural disaster in American history, any good post-Katrina reconstruction plan should consider moving these tracks. Given the tracks’ proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and to motor traffic and flood waters, Gulf Coast residents and leaders would be irresponsible if we didn’t consider a safer place for the railroad. At some point we must move these tracks from the middle of busy, growing communities like Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula, just like we’re considering moving tracks from places like downtown Jackson, Tupelo and Greenwood.
Predictably, a few folks in Washington don’t like this idea. They’re not considering the many deaths along these tracks. They say moving them costs too much money. They’re oblivious to the fact that this strategic railroad – which they outrageously have dubbed “the railroad to nowhere” – actually spans the length of our nation between California and Florida, handling vital cargo and passengers, serving our nation’s second largest refinery and our second largest naval shipbuilder, too.
This project’s critics wouldn’t exchange the railroad tunnels, overpasses, elevated tracks, crossing signals and other safety enhancements in their hometowns for the outdated and almost bare railroad crossings that are still too frequently found along the Gulf Coast. I invite them to see this situation for themselves before passing judgment on the expendability of Mississippi lives.
These objectors aside, Mississippians and their elected congressional delegation have been talking about moving these tracks for almost a decade, well before Hurricane Katrina came and changed our lives forever. Our goal has always been safety, not necessarily cost. What’s good for the railroad’s bottom line or for some bureaucrat’s budget in Washington isn’t the priority when lives are at stake. We’re thinking about trying to prevent future collisions. And, yes, we’re thinking about putting a modern, multi-lane, well-controlled east-west road where the tracks are right now.
The critics can say what they want but, like me, I’m sure many of them regularly champion using American railroads more wisely – modernizing our rail system to save energy and to one day move people along clean, electrified, high-speed tracks without pollution. This can’t happen until we discard old rail beds throughout America that were cut for steam engines of the 1840s and 1850s, twisting around the smallest hills, and running straight through the middle of what are now very busy intersections.
When we consider the future of America’s transportation system and ponder where it should be, it’s clear that rail relocation isn’t an issue of dollars. It’s an issue of sense.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email