Tupelo railroad study suggests option of elevating tracks

Published 3:34 pm Thursday, June 14, 2007

One suggestion to alleviating traffic congestion in downtown Tupelo caused by busy train traffic is to elevate the tracks.

An elevated train system is one of three options to be presented during a July 12 public hearing. The Tupelo-area railroad relocation study has nearly reached its two-year mark but has almost two years left before completion.

Engineers on the $2.2 million railroad-relocation study narrowed options from eight presented at a public hearing last year. Engineers hope to settle on a final by the time the study ends in April 2009.

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The Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line crosses 16 Tupelo intersections and brings some 25 trains through town each day.

Engineers said this week at a meeting of the city’s Major Thoroughfare Committee that one option would elevate the existing tracks so that they do not intersect a single street. The tracks would be on the same route but would be 23 feet above street level. The plan would cost $407 million, engineers estimate.

As for the risk of elevated trains derailing, it is the same as those on the ground, said Wayne Parrish, the Mississippi Department of Transportation planning manager for Tupelo’s study.

The other options are more costly.

One is to build an alternative route for the tracks to bypass downtown but still intersect some city streets. The new route would depart the existing tracks northwest of town and reconnect southeast of town. It would create 12 miles of new tracks. The estimated cost is $521 million.

Another, estimated to cost $670 million, would build an alternate route that bypasses Tupelo entirely. The new route would depart the existing tracks near Sherman and rejoin near Verona. It would create 26.8 miles of new tracks.

Feedback at the public meeting will determine which alternatives merit further study by engineers, said E. Claiborne Barnwell, an MDOT environmental division engineer and one of the study participants.

Greg Pirkle, chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Committee, and others said they favored the elevated tracks if engineers could build an attractive concrete bridge structure to support the tracks.

In other cities, artists have decorated similar structures with murals or Native American sand paintings, Parrish said.