Mississippi Export Railroad aims to mine more business with major car shop

To be built on a 12-acre site, the $16 million Mark B. Miller Railcar Repair Shop is expected to open in fourth-quarter 2025. Mississippi Export Railroad

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

Over the years, Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE) has diversified its business by offering more services designed to complement freight hauling.  

The short line now provides transloading, track maintenance and repair, industrial switching, warehousing, site development, and rail-car storage, cleaning and repair services.  

“We aim to provide at least three services for each customer,” said MSE President and CEO Kate Bourgeois in an email. “We believe that is the point where we become a partner that our customers turn to with problems and opportunities.”

By late next year, the railroad expects to add several more service options for customers — namely tank-car qualification, cleaning, and blast and painting work. 

On May 13, MSE held a groundbreaking ceremony in Moss Point, Mississippi, for a new rail-car repair shop that will specialize in tank qualification work. To be completed early in fourth-quarter 2025, the facility will be built on a 12-acre site in the Helena Industrial Complex. 

The $16 million shop is designed to handle 750 tank cars per year. It will include additional space to expand the physical footprint once capacity is fully utilized, said Bourgeois. 

Key Bridge Collapse There are more than 30 chemical manufacturers located in a 100-mile radius of the 42-mile railroad’s lines, and most of them are rail served. Mississippi Export Railroad

At regular intervals, tank cars must be inspected or qualified by certified personnel to ensure their safety. The qualification process involves visual inspections, structural integrity checks, thickness testing, safety system evaluations, complete valve rebuilds, leakage pressure tests and internal coating inspections. 

MSE operates 42 miles of track from Evanston to Pascagoula, Mississippi, and interchanges with Canadian Pacific Kansas City, CN, CSX and Norfolk Southern Railway. The short line also has access to the Port of Mobile, Alabama, and Port of Pascagoula. 

There are more than 30 chemical manufacturers located in a 100-mile radius of MSE’s lines, and most of them are rail served, said Bourgeois.  

“MSE is fortunate to do business with many of these companies in one service line or another,” she said. 

The short line has sought to take a “crawl, walk and run approach” to rail-car repairs by first performing general repairs, then performing external repairs to tanks and then qualifying tank values, said Bourgeois. 

“This is the next step to support our customers, with full tank qualification, more cleaning capacity, and a shop to blast and paint,” she said. 

The new facility will be called the Mark B. Miller Railcar Repair Shop to honor a former MSE executive. Miller recently retired from the short line after serving as vice president of operations for 22 years. 

“Mark was a terrific teacher, training his people to anticipate and avoid [things], to think like owners, and to always trust but verify,” said Bourgeois. “You see Mark’s impact in the quality of our infrastructure and feel it in long-term customer and community relationships. Now it will be further cemented with his name on this facility.” 

MSE obtained some public and private funding assistance for the new shop. The railroad received a $3.5 million grant from Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Restoration Fund and a $2 million no-interest loan through Singing River Electric Cooperative and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program. The state legislature and Mississippi Development Authority helped with the grant, said Bourgeois.  

MSE also received a $360,000 line of credit at 1% interest through its partnership with Singing River Electric and the department of agriculture.  

“These programs and partners, public and private, are so helpful for MSE, and in generating meaningful jobs in our communities,” said Bourgeois. 

The shop will be the single largest project the railroad has undertaken during Bourgeois’ tenure as MSE’s leader. She became president and CEO in April 2017 after serving as chief operating officer for a little over a year. 

The project is consistent with MSE’s continued reinvestments to grow business, Bourgeois stresses.  

“For example, MSE upgraded and extended an industrial track to support Enviva Biomass’s daily operations two years ago, built a new 360-car storage yard for storing and passing unit trains in 2019, built a barge dock on the Intracoastal in 2014 and built its first warehouse in 2009,” she said. 

In addition, MSE subsidiary Alabama Export Railroad now is playing a role in the development of a resin bagging terminal with Ray-Mont Logistics and CN at the Port of Mobile.